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Flea market fever: Shoppers gain more than good deals

Some come for the bargains. Others to socialize or spend time with family. But if there is one thing flea market fanatics can agree on, it's the fun, stress-relieving atmosphere that keeps them coming back.

Melissa Boonstra (left) talks to customer Wendy Famodu (right) while Amina Beres (left center) and Carlotta Posz pick out incense at Boonstra’s booth at the Nisswa flea market. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Melissa Boonstra (left) talks to customer Wendy Famodu (right) while Amina Beres (left center) and Carlotta Posz pick out incense at Boonstra’s booth at the Nisswa flea market. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Some come for the bargains. Others to socialize or spend time with family. But if there is one thing flea market fanatics can agree on, it's the fun, stress-relieving atmosphere that keeps them coming back.

This year, enthusiasts saw their options expand as at least two communities once again are hosts to the popular treasure-hunting destinations. In Nisswa, an outdoor market is making a comeback, while in Brainerd, a recently opened indoor market is bringing together vendors who once sold at the flea market located at the former Ben Franklin building on Highway 210.

Resident Nancy Jacobson is responsible for resurrecting the flea market in Nisswa. She and sister Cheri Brandt maintain a market booth together and hoped to sell their items closer to home after spending a few years traveling as far as Annandale.

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FUN FACT: According to the Oxford University Press, the term "flea market" originates from the French "marché aux puces," the name of a market in Paris that specialized in secondhand goods "of the kind that might contain fleas." The term first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1922.

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Although Jacobson said she never intended to lead the charge to bring the flea market back after its extended absence, months later she continues to work on finding new vendors and spreading the word.

"My sister and I just love to do garage sale-ing and finding a deal and upcycling things," Jacobson said. "(We) get to spend the day together. My mom and my other sister show up sometimes, too."

On a morning in early August, both local residents and summer visitors poked through merchandise at the flea market located on Smiley Road, just off of Highway 371. The wares included everything from used board games to handmade beauty products to antique tools, often representative of what the vendors themselves collect.

Carol Meyers, Joanne Butler and Mary Henderson are three area sisters who've long enjoyed the tradition of shopping at flea markets together. Carrying a small watercolor print of a cardinal and a new shirt she intended to wear on the boat later that day, Meyers described herself as a "lifelong scrounger."

"It's the social aspects of it and seeing what everybody's got," Meyers said. "It satisfies a little bit of my curiosity, and it's fun, you can always find a treasure."

It's a treasure Meyers and Henderson stumbled upon years earlier at the previous Nisswa flea market location that's the stuff of legends among the sisters. While perusing a box of jewelry and other odds and ends, Meyers noticed a St. Christopher medal and picked it up to look closer.

"My sister Carol (Meyers) picked up the medal and said, 'This has your name on it,'" Henderson recalled.

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At that moment, Henderson realized she'd seen that very medal before: when she had it engraved - with "I love you - Mary" - as a gift for an old boyfriend nearly 30 years earlier. She and the boyfriend broke up a month later, Henderson said, and she never expected to see a memento of their relationship again.

"I asked him (the vendor) where he got it, and the guy said, 'I think it was from a pawn shop in St. Paul,'" Henderson said. "He said, 'That's been with me all over the country."

In front of a booth nearby, Beryl Bissell had just purchased a jar of all-natural bath salts she hoped would soothe her husband's cramps. Bissell was on her annual pilgrimage to the Brainerd lakes area, where she and other former travel writing classmates have gathered at the cabin of writer Catherine Watson for each of the last 15 years.

"This is a once-a-year thing, that we come and we sort of go all around this area, hitting all the flea markets and antique shops," Bissell said. "My friends love to do this, and I like to be with them."

Further down the way, Mike and Hiede Benedict of Brainerd manned a set of tables covered with secondhand finds. What began as a way to pay off college for Mike Benedict turned into a full-blown hobby for the couple, whose offerings are aimed at those headed to the lake for the weekend.

"You have a little bit of everything," Hiede Benedict said. "You have to have toys because people have kids with, and games and puzzles for at the lake, or movies at the lake for the bad weather."

The Benedicts did not participate in flea markets for a few years following the closure of the indoor Brainerd flea market. During the same time, Hiede Benedict learned she suffered from Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, which made it even more difficult for the couple to maintain their passion.

With Hiede Benedict now cancer-free, the pair jumped at the opportunity to participate in the newly rejuvenated Nisswa flea market.

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"I'm a people person," Hiede Benedict said. "You get to meet a lot of cool people. I like to shop and garage sale, so this is a way I get to do it, but don't end up with a house full of junk."

"I mean, high-quality merchandise," she added with a smirk.

Jacobson and others are hopeful the revived market will continue to attract new vendors and shoppers to its location along the northbound lanes of Highway 371. Twenty minutes away on County Road 66 in Crosslake, a flea market run by the Crosslake-Ideal Lions is in its fourth year, bustling with nearly 50 booths each month.

"This location in Crosslake has been really good," Doreen Gallaway, co-chair of the market, said. "We've had really good vendors with good products and lots of good selections. It helps all the other stores in town, too, because people are here."

Gallaway and husband Scott Gallaway, president of the Lions club, arrive early in the morning the third Saturday of the month to assure setup is underway.

"It's really a cool community event," Doreen Gallaway said. "It's totally social. People will stand and talk for hours, perfect strangers."

Over in Brainerd, 72-year-old Jean Mudderman is the proprietor of the newly opened Downtown Treasures, an indoor flea market featuring 36 vendors. The store is a way for Mudderman to foster her passion for bargain hunting while also, she hopes, giving her the independence she desires after two retirements.

"I want my money to start working for me, instead of me working for somebody else," Mudderman said.

Flea markets were once an activity Mudderman and her late husband enjoyed together while living in Texas, where he searched for fixer-upper lawnmowers and interesting guns and she for bells and thimbles.

"We used to go to the flea markets just about every weekend, sometimes just to have something to do, and other times to look for specific items," she said. "We both enjoyed browsing through each vendor's booth to see what they had and try to find bargains."

Mudderman saw a need for Downtown Treasures after the previous indoor market closed, and through advertising and word-of-mouth, she gathered vendors who once sold together there to open booths in her store.

"We've got a good variety. That's what I like to see in a flea market, where people can come in and find a lot of things in one place," Mudderman said. "People just like to come in here to just spend time and relax and shop."

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: NISSWA
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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