Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 6, 2012

Collectibles, food and more: Flea market opportunities abound in region

It was one of those places I had always wanted to visit, but never had the chance. Something like a family get together or a project messed up my schedule and kept me away, but this year, it was different. My Labor Day weekend was free, so I was able to head for the annual Hillsville Flea Market.

Bill Archer tries to go every year for a feature story since so many people in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s circulation area head for Hillsville either to trade or to shop, so I resolved to make the trip, too. A flea market that actually filled up a whole town was something I had to see even though Bill warned us that you just can’t see the entire show in one day. It’s just too big to drink up in one trip.

I woke up early Saturday morning and immediately noticed the storm clouds. Wandering a flea market during a pouring rain wasn’t appealing, but I decided to go anyway and keep an umbrella ready.

The trip through Wythe County and into Carroll County was smooth as I headed south down Interstate 77. Traffic wasn’t too heavy, but I soon saw a sign hinting of traffic ahead. One of the billboard signs used to warn motorists of upcoming construction or crashes was offering two choices. Through traffic should stay in the left lane and flea market traffic should stick to the right.

I took that advice, got off at Hillsville and realized that it was good advice. Signs offered some choices for reaching the town, and I quickly selected one offering an alternative route. I found myself on a narrow two-lane road typical of our region and quickly found myself on the flea market’s fringes.

Rolling fields were filled with cars and trucks, and forests of canopies were right next to them. I immediately thought of Woodstock and other vast outdoor events, and wondered where the heck I was going to park.

That problem was solved immediately. Enterprising homeowners along the road were renting parking spaces. I found one for $4, and the nice lady who accepted my money pointed out a hole in the fence where I could reach the flea market.

I knew that guns were a big part of the show when I saw a young couple hauling a baby stroller through the hole: I held the father’s shotgun — he was also carrying a hunting rifle — while he and his wife got their child through the fence. I’m a knife collector, and I know that where there are guns, there are often knives.

The rain held off as I walked the lanes of vendors offering too much merchandise to mention. I quickly replaced my threadbare wallet with a new one and found one tent with beautiful handmade knifes that were outside my budget, but worth the asking price.

One vendor was selling nothing but socks. Others had antique furniture and trunks. I even saw a mantelpiece for sale. Then I saw a tent offering military surplus. Yes! There were a lot of gun parts, surplus hats and coats, backpacks and other items. Bayonets were for sale, but I didn’t see any I especially wanted. I tried to find a hat, but nothing fit or I had one like it already.

Another military surplus tent had a tub filled with M-9 bayonets for $80 apiece. They were used surplus, but a little beyond my price range. Then I found something unexpected. It was handmade Billy club for $25.

I was surrounded by a huge volume of foot traffic as I shopped, and vehicular traffic filled the nearby roads. Thousands of dollars worth of business was taking place every minute. Everybody was looking for something different or a bargain.

Flea markets and yard sales generally do pretty well in southern West Virginia and beyond. I know of other towns that attract hundreds or even thousands of visitors by having simultaneous yard sales. Something similar could work in Bluefield, Princeton and the surrounding area. Set aside weekends where everyone who wants to have a yard sale agrees to do it on the same days. Having a big flea market at some place like the Brushfork Armory, Mercer Street in Princeton, downtown Bluefield or some other central location could bring in even more traffic. Visitors could check out the flea market and then roam the variety of yard sales.

I traveled more than 100 miles to visit the flea market in Hillsville. I got a sunburn along with some interesting items, but it was worth the effort. Just visiting the place made for an entertaining day.

The same sort of entertainment could work for Mercer County and the surrounding area. Having a junction between two major highways could bring in people who love adding to their collections and hunting for a bargain. Naturally, they will need food and gasoline during their visits. With some imagination, this area could host a major flea market and yard sale extravaganza that won’t require government grants or construction.

Plus, it would save local collectors like me some gas.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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