Outdoor Flea Markets Big Draw
Last September my wife Lynette and I attended the 55th annual Apple Festival in Gays Mills, WI. The Driftless Region holds a flea market at the fairgrounds in conjunction with their celebration of the apple harvest. The festival is held the last full weekend of September each year. At the flea market, we purchased a used but not abused garden rake for $5. I shortened the handle, did a little sanding and painting, and now have a wine glass rack hanging in our country cabin. Being that we’re avid gardeners, the converted gardening tool is a perfect fit at our Crawford County retreat.
Both Wisconsin and Illinois offer collectors an abundance of bargain-filled outdoor (rain or shine) flea markets. Last summer we attended a flea market in the Northwood’s area of Wisconsin, at St. Germain. We were amazed to see how that event has grown over the years. They now have 325 to over 400 vendors at Community Park each Monday. More dealers show up when school is not in session. The weekly flea market runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Green County, WI is known for a dozen cheese factories, which make 50 varieties of cheeses. They also recently began a twice-per-year Green County Pickers Antique and Flea Market at the fairgrounds in Monroe. The next sale is planned for September 12 & 13. It was here in June that we met vendor Darryl Leistiko of Monroe. Leistiko was one of 140 dealers at the show. He bought old parking meters that once lined Monroe city streets. With a few modifications and a little paint, he now calls them banks. They sell for $50 each.
You can find just about anything at a flea market. From artwork, crafts, antiques, flowers, furniture, food, produce, plants and much more. They advertise “something for everyone” and from our experience, that’s a fact.
Northern Illinois has no shortage of flea markets either. One of the larger flea markets we know of is held at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles, Illinois, near Chicago. The sale is held March to December. They have between 400-600 dealers in the colder months and between 700-1,000 dealers in warmer weather. The flea market reports that in 2012, the USA Today newspaper mentioned the Kane County Flea Market in the “Top Ten” places to shop for antiques in the US. The sale is the first Sunday of every month and the preceding Saturday afternoon.
The “Pec-Thing” Antique & Flea market is held twice per year in Pecatonica, IL (west of Rockford). They boast up to 500 dealers on over 40 acres at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds. The next sale is slated for September 19 & 20.
This column mentions just a small sample of flea markets in the area. At the Collectors.org website they list 74 big and small flea markets in the state of Illinois and 79 flea markets in Wisconsin. Though not every flea market is listed, the site can be very helpful in locating some of the closest flea markets to your home, with directions on how to get to the deals. The website lists hours of operation, admission and/or parking fees, if applicable. There also is contact information such as an email, website or phone number. Not all the information on the site may be up-to-date, so I recommend doing a little more research before you fill your gas tank and head out on a long-distance treasure hunt. Also, in our experience, vendor participation diminishes greatly at some flea markets during inclement weather.
Another popular flea market is the 7-Mile Fair Flea Market at Caledonia, south of Milwaukee. They are open every weekend of the year. In the cold months, you will find about 550 dealers inside and in the warmer months (April to October) that increases to 650-700 dealers when you count the outdoor sites.
Historic Cedarburg is just north of Milwaukee. They hold Maxwell Street Days on Sundays, four times a year. They have space for up to 600 dealers at Firemen’s Park. The next flea market is scheduled for July 12.
Heading up I-94 and back to western Wisconsin, drive past Tomah and plan a stop at the 43rd annual Warrens Cranberry Festival. There will be about 350 booths at this popular flea market. This year’s festival will be held on September 25, 26 and 27.
Edgerton, WI, just off I-90 south of Madison, celebrates antique tractors each year at their Rock River Thresheree. The event, which has roots back to 1955, is held on Labor Day weekend. A 300-vendor flea market will be part of the event again this year.
Probably the flea market my wife and I spend the most time at is the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn, WI. This Southeast Wisconsin flea market began in 1982 and up to 650 dealers draw an average of 10,000 bargain hunters from Illinois and Wisconsin on four Sundays each year. The event specializes primarily in antiques and collectibles. The upcoming Sunday sales are on August 9 and September 27. Admission is $5 and gates open at 7:00 a.m. If you go, be aware that pets are not allowed. Bring comfortable walking shoes, a backpack for your purchases and sunscreen or an umbrella. Don’t be surprised if you see “Hippie Tom” there selling his wares. Hippie Tom has appeared on History Channel’s American Pickers television show and he and other dealers may just have something you can’t live without.