Be a Better Thrifter / Personal Story

Best Places for Best Secondhand Finds: Part 1

img_20150621_122936725This post is the first of a series of posts that will be released one Wednesday a month. Each post will feature a different location for finding secondhand items and a bit of my memories about them. 

Flea Markets

The first time my family went to a flea market it was three sweaty hours spent under the summer sun. Our first addiction began in Shawano, WI a place mostly known for its lake cottages and last remaining K-mart (until recently), the giant red K like an artifact of retail.


A sample of my erratic taste. Pictured: Elvis because he makes the best music for cooking breakfast, chopsticks because they’re fun to eat with, a baggie of vintage state stickers, an old pill tin for Midol, a tiny yellow, hand-painted dish, the result of someone’s metal working project with dinosaurs or elephants (???) in love, and a tiny leather pouch with beading detail.

The solo flea market food stand in Shawano is run by the local 4-H club and the chance that the person taking your order is 10 years old is about as great as the chance that they are 70. You can identify them as one of the same by their 4-H T-shirts with the large green clovers on the front. It smells of cheesy egg sandwiches and brats, the condiments located on the ledge where you order next to gallon-sized containers filled with onions and pickles. The napkins always fly away, each time being rescued by a seemingly similar but distinctly different middle-aged man in a visor, with a beer belly, and wearing khaki Velcro sandals.

Beyond the lively food selection, the flea market gets even more dynamic. One routine seller has decorative antique items such as old wooden barrels, vibrant rag rugs, and old, framed movie posters. He also brings his black dog, Cosmo, who is larger than myself and far more friendly. When I hug him his fur reminds me of the fur of a favorite childhood stuffed animal that you absolutely must just bury your face in.

The crowd is not particularly trendy. Nothing like I imagine the crowds of L.A.’s flea market where the attendees wear flowy, soft overalls and sun hats. The crowds here may wear overalls, but only because they’re headed back to the farm. Many middle-aged couples stride around in Harley gear and leather eating brats and talking with other motor heads. Some families come out and about to check things out and kids beg parents to purchase cheap, Chinese manufactured toys and jewelry.

Mostly the vendors just call me sweetie and hon a whole lot.

Each member of my family seemed to gravitate towards an item to collect, though it does go in phases. I do think in the beginning that the newness of everything caused us to want to buy a bit of everything. As we visited more and more flea markets we figured out what kinds of things were really special and what kinds of things were common place “old things” that vendors try to capitalize on.


One of my favorite finds, I found this hand-sewn kimono on one of my first trips to the flea market. The fabric and color palette are beautiful.

A list of our early interests below:

Father- old glass bottles of unique shapes, blue glass, unique brass items, plant stands, fishing accessories, old tools, classic rock records

Mother- glass Pyrex bowl set like her mother used to have, records from the 60s

Me- romantic love postcards, doilies, old cameras, unique pins, vintage jewelry and clip-on earrings, old black and white photos of people I don’t know, vintage paper items

After we realized the magic of the flea market experience, we looked for them everywhere. We found several near our favorite camping spots and began planning our camping trips around them. Do you have any favorite flea market experiences? What got you hooked? What do you look for now?



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