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Tchotchke Hunter's Delight

A Guide to the Region's Flea Markets

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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

ILLINOIS

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).

INDIANA

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.

IOWA

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).

MICHIGAN

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.

WISCONSIN

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.

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