Next weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Yes, it’s a holiday weekend, but since I retired six years ago Labor Day and Labor Day weekend have little meaning for me. My week is six Saturdays and a Sunday.
It’s not my favorite because it’s a holiday weekend. It is probably no coincidence that, more than 75 years ago, someone decided to hold a flea market in a tiny town on Labor Day weekend. Without a lot of checking, I’m not sure there was a Labor Day 75 years ago.
Anyway, I like next weekend as it is one of two weekends when flea market fanciers get two for the price of one. Better yet, there is no price for either. Two huge flea markets are free, as is parking at both sites, which are a mere 10 miles apart.
For years the almost twin flea markets of White Cloud and Sparks, Kan., got little if any publicity in this area. Then small notices became available, when they could be found. Earlier this month the Sunday magazine in a large nearby daily publication had a six-page cover feature of the Sparks flea market, the most publicity I’ve ever seen about it.
So now the few flea market fanciers in the Kansas City area who were not aware of the two jewels a couple of hours away, are now very aware. The places will no doubt be crawling with bargain seekers, of which I plan to be one.
But I’m far from a newbie to White Cloud and Sparks. My first visit was in May 1979, and I’ve returned each market since except two, when I lived way out of state. Sparks didn’t come along until 1982, and took several years to outgrow White Cloud. Every year bargain seekers hear that White Cloud is dying, but the next first weekends in May and September it becomes alive with dealers and customers.
The last several years it has declined, enough that finding a parking place is no longer a major problem. Sparks, on the other hand, seems to grow each year. The magazine article said 75,000 customers were at Sparks in May. That’s a bunch of customers.
Getting to both is a piece of cake. Go north on Highway 7 through Atchison, around Troy, and some 40 or so miles north of Leavenworth the highway turns sharply right, and you are at Sparks. Keep going another 10 miles north along the river and you are in downtown White Cloud.
Food for lunch is plentiful in both places, although I still lament the absence of Texas Red, probably the best barbecue brisket I ever put in my mouth. It took several years to find out that Texas Red was from Concordia, Kan. There ought to be something about false advertising there, but since he hasn’t been at either place for years, I guess his briskets should best be forgotten.
What can one find at each place? Probably just about anything one is looking for. One shopper said the markets are the place to find “the interesting and the unexpected.” I heartily concur.
Now that you know how to get to both places, your dilemma is when to go. The official dates are Aug. 30-31 and Sept. 1-2. But the earlier you go, the fewer dealers will be set up, and the higher the prices will be. The later you go, the more dealers, prices will be lower, but most of the good stuff will be gone.
Another decision to be made is whether to stop at Sparks first or go to White Cloud and hit Sparks on the way back to Leavenworth. Each shopper will have to make up his or her mind about that one. As for me…I’m not telling my secrets to anybody. I have a secret parking place at White Cloud, and just hope it hasn’t rained recently when I go to Sparks. There is plenty of parking in a big grassy field, but after a rain it is a pure quagmire.
So, good hunting. If this will be your first trip, I bet you return next May.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.