Waterloo’s largest family flea market

Shopping in community

By Leziga Barikor

WATERLOO, IA

Cars were parked in packed rows already for the first day of Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market event. Although from the outside appearing to be the typical flea market event, for those involved this was more than a chance for bargain shopping — it was a function with family at the center.

“There’s a lot of family here,” said Ellen a vendor who has participated in the event for man years. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Launching things off on a brisk Thursday morning, the event ran from April 18-20 running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Thursday Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

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The owner operator of the event, Shirley Sommerfelt said the help from her family was essential in putting together the event from setting up the canopies throughout the 5 acres of land it spans to its future.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Sommerfelt said. “I enjoy doing it. And even though I’m 77-years old, and I think I’ve only got one more flea market in me… then my daughter and my granddaughter are going to take it over from there.”

Sommerfelt has been holding this flea market event every year since 2002. It happens twice a year with one in April and another in September. This April was the largest it has ever been with over 40 vendors.

“We’ve got every spot filled,” Sommerfelt said.

Sommerfelt said they usually have a food vendor and then people who sell clothes and antiques, collectibles and other items. But this year, she got a new type of vendor join her flea market.

“I do have a gal who does fingernails,” Sommerfelt said. “I’ve never had that before.”

The early morning customers gathered around Maria Spilde’s small, but impressionable vendor table for Color Street Nails. Customers were able to get a free demo of her product in the form of a manicure. Fighting against the wind, Spilde put Color Street Nail product on an attendee

“It almost goes on like a sticker, but it’s real nail polish strips and then they adhere dry,” Spilde explained for the customer.

The product that is also available online had a lot of appeal for people who may already spend a lot of time washing their hands and see painting their nails as more time consuming for the fading effect.

“Wow, those are pretty,” one attendee said after her nail job was complete.

This flea market being broad in size offered potential customers many options from the new to used to handmade items.

One vendor was holding down the fort alone with his handmade items. But these weren’t solo projects.

“My wife and I both do [handmade items],” Gary said. The vendor explained how their collection of rugs, potholders and bags were all made by themselves at home.

Gary is rather new to the crafting game by about a year and a half.

“She’s been selling all her life,” Gary said of his wife.

With such a large assortment of items, one could assume it required a big time commitment.

“Some do, some don’t,” Gary said. “The rugs take quite a while.”

Gary’s family isn’t the only one that came together to showcase original works. Jesse Henke although setting up alone had family help with his items as well.

“[It’s] all homemade from a barn I tore down with my dad,” Henke said.

His items varied from furniture to home decorations and all made with parts from that torn down barn.

“The tin roofing, I cut out, the animal shapes and stuff like that,” Henke said. “And I built the tables with a majority of the wood. And then I used plywood and pallets for some of the other stuff too.”

Where some people use flea markets to sell original works that took, others use them to display items they may not have made themselves but invested years into nonetheless.

People like Ellen, who’s table featured many old toys from a golden era. Specifically original Barbies that would be difficult to track down now.

“[The] 70’s, 80’s is when I was collecting them,” Ellen said. “There’s a lot of them and I stuck to special ones: Easter ones, Valentine ones, Halloween, Christmas.”

Unlike Stilde, Ellen prefers to keep her business outside the eCommerce realm and besides this flea market sells them at the occasional garage sale.

This year’s flea market saw the return of a lot of veteran vendors like Ellen and some new people like Henke. But it’s not simply the commerce opportunity that keeps people coming.

“Oh you get to meet lots of different people,” Barb said.

Barb has been attending Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market as a vendor to around 5 to 6 years now. She sells a wide variety of items from antiques, to essential oils, home and beauty items. She also visits other flea markets across Iowa to sell her items.

The flea market also has its repeat customers year to year. Mother and daughter Laura and Elizabeth visited the market early Thursday morning to peruse the various vendors. Laura said they usually go for items like pictures and mirrors.

“Stuff for the house,” Laura said.

“I have a lot of regulars and I have a lot of new ones [customers],” Ellen said.

Although this year was the largest that this flea market has ever been, not all the regulars came out for this April event. Ellen’s two uncles who usually set up as vendors weren’t there this year. And yet, Sommerfelt anticipates continued growth for her flea market.

“It gets bigger and bigger,” Sommerfelt said.

The September flea market usually takes place in the third weekend, but this fall it will happen in the second weekend. The September event tends to be even busier than in spring.

“We had to move it up,” Sommerfelt said. “So hopefully, it will be a good one too!”

Information on Waterloo’s Largest Flea Market can be found on local flyers and through an accompanying Facebook event.

Cover Photo by David Izquierdo via Unsplashed

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