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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: White Cloud and Sparks — two of my favorite places

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  • We are at another important time for those in the local area who like old stuff and bargains. That would be the venerable 80-something-year-old biannual flea market at White Cloud, Kan.
    The American Legion began the popular event that has grown sort of like Topsy in the past eight decades. It has grown so much that today bargain seekers get two for the free price of one.
    A decade or so ago, another flea market on the same weekend and but 10 miles away from the more famous White Cloud began, at the non-existent ersatz town of Sparks.  And while many see White Cloud as dying, Sparks is growing by leaps and bounds.
    The dual markets are Labor Day and May Day weekends, so next weekend  is the last chance in 2014 for bargain hunters to go to the big event. Some dealers arrive and are ready for business Wednesday, but the official days are Thursday through Sunday.
    What can a bargain hunter find at both places? Practically anything a bargain hunter is looking for. Items are more plentiful early on, but prices are also higher. Several years ago, a dealer with a stack of World War II-era Life Magazines said they were $5 each.
    That seemed a bit high to me, and when I attempted to bargain, he said to come back Sunday, when any left would be 50 cents each.
    Most dealers will bargain, but not all. The ones who won’t usually take home a lot more merchandise than the dealers who bargain.  
    A big difference between the two sites is terrain. Everything at White Cloud is seemingly uphill. Way uphill. Even when one gets to the top of the hill, there is another hill to climb.  Sparks is as flat as western Kansas, with nary a hill in sight. The past few years there have been more dealers at Sparks and fewer at White Cloud, but there are still plenty at White Cloud.
    So, how to get there, for the uninitiated. Just head north toward Atchison on Highway 7.  Stay on it, and it goes right by Sparks after a sharp right turn. Ten miles north is White Cloud.
    It is “shoppers choice” whether to stop at Sparks or go on to White Cloud first and stop at Sparks on the way back to Leavenworth. Food vendors are plentiful at both places so that is not a planning factor.
    Some dealers have been at one of the sites for years, while others are first time ones at each market. One of my favorites at White Cloud, and I never knew his name, was a World War II veteran who had the last building on the right just before the Missouri River.
    Page 2 of 2 - He was one of the original group that began the White Cloud tradition so long ago, but although his ancient wooden building is still there, and still surrounded by rusty old junk, it has not been opened the last two years. Sadly, I’m afraid he’s joined the Big Flea Market in the Sky.
    Shoppers should dress in comfortable clothing and wear walking shoes, as there will be a lot of walking at both places. Parking is plentiful at both, but at White Cloud it is sort of catch as catch can.
    At Sparks there is a huge field with free parking, but if it has rained, it is a frog pond.  I’ve not actually seen a frog nor an alligator there yet, but with lots of rain I’m sure both are in abundance. OK, few alligators are in northern Kansas, but the field sure looks “alligatory” after a hard rain.
    I’ve never had a dealer refuse to accept a check, and some even take credit cards. All, of course, take cash. So, spending money will not be a challenge, whatever mode a spender chooses.
    I’ve been writing about White Cloud and Sparks for 30 years, which one would think is long enough. But, just when I decide this is the last column about two of my favorite places, someone tells me, “I was so glad to read your column about White Cloud and Sparks as I recently moved to the area and didn’t know about them. Thank you.”
    You’re welcome, and here’s the info again.

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