MATTOON - It's hard to tell whether it's the goods or the conversation that draw flea market vendors and customers alike. Both the items displayed and the talk along the way keep these rummage sale-like events buzzing.
For some, going to a flea market is an adventure. For some, it is a time to see old friends - and make new ones.
Or it might be a time to barter for that rare find or sell something recently discovered in one's abandoned shed. A flea market is a place to find some of the most rare items.
One might think of a flea market as a huge rummage sale, with each vendor in his own niche. The wide array of goods at the location might be new items; some are antiques.
Many vendors converge onto new turf several times a year and open their booths to customers interested in buying nearly anything that can be loaded into a truck or trailer and moved about the region.
For some vendors, flea markets are a hobby, and for others, it is a way of making a living.
"We travel quite a bit," said Kenny Glosser, 73, of Decatur, a vendor of farm primitives at flea markets.
"I always carry an extra chair because some of the guys will meet up and want to sit for a while - and always have some stories to tell."
Glosser said regulars come to his booth in an effort to stump him or convince him about a rare find.
"I always have one or two items that I like to have around to stump people," he said. "There's always something I can use as a good conversation piece."
Some rare finds at Glosser's booth include a black walnut cracker, impact nail puller, large fireman's axe and a large commercial coffee grinder.
"I always have about 100 to 150 unusual items."
When Glosser found himself "locked out" in a union dispute at A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. in Decatur on June 23, 1993, he said he had to act fast.
The next weekend, he loaded up a trailer to sell goods at a Decatur flea market.
His flea market venture began as a way to make a living until he was able to collect a retirement check. Now, he considers it strictly a hobby.
"I had a pickup and a homemade trailer, and we went up the road. Now we go somewhere every weekend, and we just love it," Glosser said.
He and his wife of 53 years, Nancy, often travel together.
Glosser said he buys at auctions and from other vendors at shows.
"I've bought from a pickup load full to just a few pieces," he said. "Once I bought a semi-load of cookbooks. I sold cookbooks for three years in my booths."
The work as a vendor is time-consuming, he said.
"It takes me about 12 hours to set up. It takes a few hours just to unload the trailer and get everything into the mall."
Ed Royse of Mattoon is a retired auto mechanics teacher and a tool man. He comes to flea markets in search only of tools.
"I don't have much interest in much else. I like the older tools, especially, because they are better quality and are a heck of a lot cheaper," said Royse, 77.
He's been visiting flea markets and conversing with vendors like Glosser for at least 10 years. "He (Glosser) travels all over the country, so he has lots of things," Royse said.
A former Mattoon High School teacher, Royse said in his retirement he likes to visit and shop for tools - just for fun.
"There's usually a group of us guys that like to go around and look at (merchandise) flea markets," Royse said. "But, lots of times, I just shoot the 'you-know-what' with the guys."
Glosser said each item is priced when it is set out. If he's going to negotiate a price on one of his items, often it comes down to attitude.
"I consider the person's attitude when they come to my booth," he said. "I look at how much I have in the item, and what I would be willing to pay for it."
Glosser said his wife made up a slogan for his booth that sums it up: "If we don't have it, it's not junk yet."
Dawn Schabbing can be reached at email@example.com or 238-6864.
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