Most people think Sundays are for sleeping and reading the papers, but a certain breed rises at dawn and drives tens if not hundreds of miles to go treasure hunting, looking for advertising memorabilia, leather-bound first editions, country pine armoires, chrome-trimmed dinette sets, Rumrill vases. That's the joy of flea market shopping, where prices are almost always negotiable and finding what you want takes some patience, skill, and serendipity. At one end of the spectrum are upscale marts with troves of mint-condition McCoy pottery and mission oak; at the other are swap meets where you're more likely to find tube socks and miracle arthritis cures. Yet each type of market has its devotees, and both can be addictive.
Illinois has two nationally known markets: the Kane County Antiques & Flea Market and the Sandwich Antique Market. Featuring 500 vendors spread out over 160 acres, the Sandwich market offers many top-drawer wares. The big draw there is antique furniture, but you'll also find quilts, vintage linens, pottery, glass, jewelry, and silverware, and there's a shipping service so you don't have to lug your mahogany dining table home.
The offerings of Kane County's more than 1,000 dealers, by comparison, include reproductions, crafts, foodstuffs, and newer merchandise such as supplies for refurbishing antiques. Mary Popma, owner of Turtle Creek Antiques on Lincoln near Grace, thinks that eBay has adversely affected the quality of markets such as this one. "A lot of people would rather sell their goods online than at the flea markets," she says.
Flea markets outside of Bloomington, Grayslake, and Wheaton and one in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, though not as well-known, are all recommended by Popma and other dealers for their selection and prices. Run by Don and Carol Raycraft, former editors for Country Living magazine, the Third Sunday Market in Bloomington limits dealers to those specializing in antiques, collectibles, handmade crafts, contemporary folk art, and garden items. The flea markets in Grayslake and Wheaton, both run by Zurko Productions, reserve indoor spaces for dealers in antiques and collectibles. And the Elkhorn Antique Market has its share of professional dealers, along with "grandpa and grandma cleaning out the attic," says proprietor Nona Yaeggi.
Some flea markets are worth a trip for their small-town locations. The Towanda Antique Flea Market, for example, is part of the town's Fourth of July celebration, which also features a parade, fireworks, and relay races. The Shipshewana market, some five hours from Chicago in Indiana, is situated in Amish and Mennonite country and offers a flea market, a separate antique mall, and multiple auctions, including some of horses and other livestock. Other diversions there include tours of the area, buggy rides, a Mennonite-Amish museum, and stores selling quilts and quilt supplies.
Besides caution and cash, what should you bring to these markets? A magnifying glass can be helpful for reading labels, a measuring tape for checking sizes, and a cloth or tissue good for wiping off dust. Conventional wisdom is to go early for the best selection and shop late for the best prices. Several flea markets offer early-bird admission.
--Stephanie B. Goldberg
Alsip Tri-State Swap-O-Rama
4350 W. 129th, Alsip; 708-344-7300
700 to 900 dealers; new and used merchandise. Open year-round 7 AM to 4 PM Saturday and Sunday, 7 AM to 2 PM Wednesday. $1 (50 cents for children 12 and under).
Third Sunday Market
Interstate Center, Route 9 West, Bloomington; 309-452-7926
More than 400 dealers; noted for antique furniture, pottery and glassware, Americana, and midcentury modern. 8 AM to 4 PM Sunday, May 16, June 20, July 18, August 15, September 19, and October 17 (early-bird preview noon to 6 PM Saturday, 6:30 to 8 AM Sunday). $5 (preview $25, $40 for two).
Chicago Ashland Avenue Swap-O-Rama
4100 S. Ashland; 708-344-7300
800 to 1,000 dealers; new and used merchandise. Open year-round 8 AM to 7 PM Thursday, 7 AM to 4 PM Saturday and Sunday. $1 (50 cents for children 12 and under).
Grayslake Antique Market
Lake County Fairgrounds, Grayslake; 715-526-9769; www.zurkoantiquetours.com
More than 300 dealers; antiques and collectibles; delivery service available in summer. 10 AM to 4 PM Saturday, 8 AM to 3 PM Sunday, May 8-9, June 12-13, July 10-11, August 7-8, September 11-12, October 9-10, November 13-14, December 11-12 (early-bird preview 8 to 10 AM Saturday). All-night market 5 PM to 4 AM May 22-23. $5 (preview $15).
Kane County Antique and Flea Market
Kane County Fairgrounds, Route 64 & Randall Road, Saint Charles; 630-377-2252; kanecountyfleamarket.com
With more than 1,000 dealers, one of the nation's largest flea markets. 12 AM to 5 PM Saturday, 7 AM to 4 PM Sunday, May 1-2, June 5-6, July 3-4, July 31-August 1, September 4-5, October 2-3 (early-bird previews 9 AM to noon Saturday). All-night market 4 PM to 4 AM August 21-22. $5 (free for children 12 and younger); preview $50.
Melrose Park Swap-O-Rama Flea Market
4600 W. Lake (corner of Lake & Mannheim Road); 708-344-7300
450 dealers; new and used goods. Open year-round 8 AM to 3 PM Saturday, 7 AM to 4 PM Sunday. $1 (50 cents for children 12 and under).
The Pec Thing
Winnebago County Fairgrounds, 500 W. First, Pecatonica; 815-239-1641; www.winnebagocountyfair.com
More than 500 dealers. 8 AM to 5 PM Saturday and Sunday, May 15-16 and September 18-19 (early-bird preview 9 AM to 9 PM Friday, May 14 and September 17). $3 (preview $15).
Sandwich Antique Market
Sandwich Fairgrounds, Route 34, Sandwich; 815-786-3337; www.antiquemarkets.com
600 dealers from around the country; specializes in 19th- and 20th-century antiques; no items less than 25 years old; delivery service available. 8 AM to 4 PM Sunday, May 16, June 20, July 25, August 22, September 26, and October 24 (early-bird preview Saturday 11 AM to 8 PM). $5 (free for children 12 and under); preview $30.
Towanda Antique Flea Market
North Park & South Park, exit 171 off I-55, Towanda; 309-728-2384
250 dealers; Fourth of July celebration with a parade and fireworks. 9 AM to 5 PM Sunday, July 4. Free.
Wheaton Antique Flea Market
DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Rd., Wheaton; 715-526-9769; www.zurkoantiquetours.com
More than 200 dealers, most in antiques and collectibles. 8 AM to 3 PM, Sunday, May 16, June 20, August 15, September 19, October 17, November 21, and December 19 (early-bird preview 6 to 8 AM). All-night market 5 PM to 4 AM August 21-22. $4 (preview $15); all-night market $5.
Wolff's Flea Market
2031 N. Mannheim Rd., Melrose Park; 847-524-9590; www.wolffsfleamarket.com
Antique mall and more than 400 vendors; antiques, collectibles, and new merchandise. Open year-round 8 AM to 4 PM Saturday and Sunday. $1 (50 cents for children and seniors).
Wolff's Flea Market
South and west parking lots, Allstate Arena, Rosemont; 847-524-9590; www.wolffsfleamarket.com
More than 600 dealers. 6 AM to 3 PM Sunday, April through October. $1 (50 cents for children and seniors).
Fort Wayne Antique & Flea Market
Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell, Fort Wayne; 502-456-2244; www.stewartpromotions.com
More than 350 vendors. 3 to 9 PM Friday, 10 AM to 7 PM Saturday, and 11 AM to 5 PM Sunday, November 19-21. $1.
Hoosier Antique Exposition
Indiana State Fairgrounds, 1200 E. 38th, Indianapolis; 317-432-3662
200 dealers; noted for glassware, pottery, and furniture. 11 AM to 7 PM Friday, 11 AM to 6 PM Saturday, and noon to 5 PM Sunday, June 11-13; 11 AM to 6 PM Friday and Saturday, noon to 5 PM Sunday, September 17-19 and December 3-5. $5.
Indiana Flea Market
Indiana State Fairgrounds, East 38th Street & Fall Creek Parkway, Indianapolis; 502-456-2244
More than 200 dealers; antiques and collectibles, but largely crafts and new goods. Noon to 6 Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday, and 10 AM to 4 PM Sunday, July 23-25, October 1-3, October 29-31, November 26-28, and December 10-12. Free.
Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market
345 S. Van Buren, Shipshewana; 260-768-4129; www.tradingplaceamerica.com
More than 800 vendors; includes an antique mall and auction. 7 AM to 5 PM Tuesday, 7 AM to 3 PM Wednesday, May through October; auctions at 8 AM Wednesday. $2 per car.
Second Sunday Antique Show Flea Market
5049 Herbert Hoover Hwy. NE, Iowa City; 319-351-8888
About 100 dealers; antiques and collectibles. 8 AM to 2 PM Sunday, May 9, September 12, October 10, November 14, and December 12 (early-bird preview 5:30 to 8 AM). $2 (preview $5).
Ann Arbor Antiques Market
5055 Ann Arbor Saline Rd., Ann Arbor; 850-349-9766; annarborantiquesmarket.com
More than 350 dealers; 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century pieces. 7 AM to 4 PM Sunday, May 16, June 20, July 18, August 15, October 17, and November 7; 7 AM to 4 PM Saturday and Sunday, September 18-19. $6.
Seven Mile Fair Flea Market
I-94 and Seven Mile Road, Caledonia; 262-835-2177; www.7milefair.com
About 1,000 vendors; includes a farmers' market. Year-round 9 AM to 5 PM Saturday and Sunday. $1.50 (free for children 11 and under).
Elkhorn Antique Flea Market
Walworth County Fairgrounds, 411 E. Court, Elkhorn; 262-723-5651; nlpromotionsllc.com
500 to 700 vendors; noted for furniture, pottery, and vintage sports memorabilia. 7 AM to 3 PM, Sunday, May 16, June 27, August 8, and September 26. $4.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.