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By: Patricia Ann Chaffee

James Steele of Old Saybrook, CT.James Steele of Old Saybrook, CT.One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and nowhere does that idiom prove to have greater truth than your neighborhood flea market. My partner and I wandered off in search of a story one recent sunny Sunday and ended up at the Clinton Village Antique & Collectible Flea Market. I’m not really a hunter gatherer type person and although I appreciate certain vintage items, I’m not really one to fill my car with collectibles and tchotchkes. But I’m a minimalist and a minority in this area. I realize that.

Flea markets are big business and a fabulous way to find interesting, unique items for your home. Flea market buyers range from folks looking for a bargain, families who are out for a Sunday drive, college students looking to outfit their first apartment, do-it-yourselfers, and decorators searching for those one of a kind pieces of furniture or accessories. Antiques and collectibles, repurposed and upcycled items, plants and garden material, and even new merchandise can often be found at flea markets.

There is a fair amount of speculation about the etymology of the phrase including its origin coming from the French “marché aux puces” (literally “market of the fleas”), and its practice which may have originated in Paris in the 1860’s and might have had something to do with the namesake critters sometimes found on furniture (or pets). Other theories credit Russell Carrell, an east-coast antique show organizer, with our modern flea market as we know it today. (Wikipedia)

The Clinton Village market is just such a modern day market, having their opening day when I was there and it was a very modest gathering of a handful of vendors with tables set up alongside various shed sized building filled to overflowing with assorted “stuff.” There was a minimal semblance of order with one building housing records and books, another displayed glassware, yet another had more antique furniture and yet another had vintage signs, tools, games and household equipment.

I noticed a game called Tip It, I remembered from childhood that I hadn’t thought of in 50 years. “Hey, I know that game,” I said out loud to my partner. And isn’t stirring up memories the reason so many of us are attracted to these vintage treasures? We want to bring them home and remember “back when…” My attention wandered to a vintage hammered aluminum ice bucket on the top shelf that my taller accomplice handed me to inspect before he strolled over to look at some vintage tools and an old fishing rod. I decided to pass on the ice bucket and we wandered around the outdoor tables that were strewn with various odds and ends. I noticed three metal ship sculptures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria and wondered about the person who might take those home. I saw scads of old jewelry in glass cases and vintage coke signs and stuff that I couldn’t even identify, but it was an old cast iron pot that piqued my guy’s curiosity. Fortunately his curiosity waned and it didn’t come home with us.

There is a certain degree of mystery and fascination in these places and the spirit of the past is sometimes palpable in the old treasures. They tell a story and sometimes they tell our story in some way. There seemed to be something for everyone in this little market and there are others like it everywhere as these outdoor bazaars are very common throughout New England and New York.

The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford is the largest in Connecticut and an experience worth the trip. The Elephant’s Trunk has been around since 1976 and is held on a 55 acre parcel of land that was once a tobacco farm and later grew alfalfa crops. Owned by the same family since way back, every Sunday between April and November, this open air market attracts an average of about 400 vendors and 3,500-6,000 buyers. One feature about it that manager Gregory Baecker finds inviting, is that, about 70 percent of the vendors sell antiques, collectibles and vintage items. “The market is really geared toward that type of vendor,” he says. “Also, my spaces are 20’ feet by 20’ feet giving vendors plenty of room to sell.” They have parking for 1,000 cars and they even have food vendors.

He has seen an increase in attendance over the years and speculates that the publicity from HGTV’s Flea Market Flip show, hosted by Lara Spencer hasn’t hurt one bit. The show films there twice a year, around May and again in September or October, providing the market with publicity they could never afford. On the show two teams vie to make the most profit as they are challenged to re-purpose what they find. Turning trash into treasure is what the show is all about and they have been highlighting that at the Elephant’s Trunk for the past four years.

Greg has been manager of Elephant’s Trunk since it began and he took the job while he was a teacher in Danbury Connecticut. He moved up the ranks taking jobs as assistant principal in Torrington and then principal at a school in Milford before accepting a final position in Orleans, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. But he still tends to the Flea Market every weekend and enjoys the interaction with the vendors and the buyers. “I just love it,” he says. “It’s an opportunity that I really enjoy.”

He believes that the popularity of flea markets like his, is that people want to get out and do something as a family and the Elephants Trunk is a very family friendly market. Additionally there is a wide range of items and many bargains to be had. Recently he had several vendors selling outdoor furniture, plants and garden material, hardware, antiques and collectibles, jewelry, garden statuary, as well as new items. “There is a wide variety to pick from, it’s outdoors, it’s relaxed and I think people just enjoy the experience.”

The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market is located at 490 Danbury Road, New Milford, Connecticut. It is open 7 a.m. on Sundays through November. Admission for buyers is $2.00 and children under 12 are free. For more information call (508) 265-9911 or visit www.etflea.com. Information about the Clinton Village Antique & Collectible Flea Market can be found by calling (860) 669-3839. It is located at 327 East Main Street (Route 1) Clinton, Connecticut. Call ahead for details.

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