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Vintage cameras are some of the spoils that reward treasure hunters at Sparks and White Cloud flea markets in Kansas.
TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/KANSAS CITY STAR
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BY STACY DOWNS
The Kansas City Star
SPARKS, Kan.--The Sparks Antiques and Collectibles Flea Market, in a town with a population of seven, intrigued me. Each of its twice-a-year, four-day events turns this blip on the map into a hustling, bustling center of 500 dealers and more than 75,000 customers.
You can't help but appreciate those uplifting numbers in such a small place during these downtrodden times.
Kansas City-area employees from Hallmark and scrapbook supply company K & Company talked up the heaps of rusty, crusty stuff as inspirational. Interior designers, too, sang Sparks' praises, saying it's a primo source for the interesting and unexpected.
So this year the pirate in my soul decided it was time. Would Sparks mark the spot for buried treasure? I was willing to dig.
Brothers Gary and Tom Winters created the flea in Sparks--24 miles north of Atchison, Kan.--30 years ago because the town was on the route to other antiques shows during spring and Labor Day weekend.
Photographer Tammy Ljungblad and I went in May, arriving on a Thursday. Prepping for "picking"-- the act of searching shelves, boxes, rows and mountains of stuff to find gems--is crucial. Besides toting water and a large market bag or cart, one should wear comfy shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Carry cash and hand sanitizer.
"You're gonna get dirty," says Fancy Smith, owner of Cactus Creek home decor store in Weston and a Sparks shopping veteran. Smith is co-host of the radio show "Junk in My Trunk" and was recently a contestant on the History Channel's new reality show "Picked Off."
Smith likes to take her three sons picking. They have fun. Her 9-year-old collects vintage license plates.
"Not only is it a cheap, enjoyable family activity, kids can be awesome help," Smith says. Wyatt found a cowhide purse when he was 3. His mom loved it.
"Being low to the ground has its definite benefits."
JUNK OFFERS HOPE
Right now, junk is hot. For sellers of unwanted figurines and charmingly chipped picture frames, junk offers the golden opportunity of profit. They're usually able to sell an object for at least three times more than they paid at a garage or estate sale.
Buyers might find not just bargains, but an item that makes their homes different from anyone else's. It's a chance to shine a little.
WHAT: Sparks Antiques and Collectibles Flea Market WHEN: Twice a year, in May and Labor Day weekend WHERE: North Kansas 7 and 240th Road in Sparks, Kan. ADMISSION: Free PARKING: Free on the 4-acre parking lot controlled by the flea market. DON'T MISS: White Cloud, 11 miles north of Sparks. It contains a flea market with finer antiques and a lookout point for the Midwest's "Four Corners": Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. MORE: sparksantiquesand collectibles.com