Over 35 years later, flea market continues to attract crowds
Joan Mate polishes jewelry Sunday afternoon as shoppers browse the Waldo Farmers and Flea Market, the largest such establishment in North Central Florida.Along U.S. Highway 301, just north of Waldo, Fla. is a red and white colored sign in the shape of an arrow that reads “Waldo Farmer’s & Flea Market” in bright blue letters. A statue of a big white horse with a black mane rests above the sign, beckoning cars as they pass by.
The 50 acres of land that lie beyond this famous sign are home to North Central Florida’s largest farmers and flea market, a popular weekend attraction for avid shoppers and families alike.
Each weekend, about 30,000 people from all over North Central Florida come to the flea market to buy produce, bargain shop or just to browse around, chat and enjoy the weather.
“It’s kind of like your old city streets, where people would walk around and were actually interested in each other,” owner Sally Blakewood said. “We call ourselves the old fashioned flea market.”
With over 900 dealers throughout the year, the flea market offers a large variety of products. From kitchen utensils and wooden swings to sunglasses and toys for children, according to Blakewood, there’s something for everyone. Not to mention, the farmers market offers a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. For the hungry shoppers, the market also has a small café that serves breakfast until 11 a.m. as well as sandwiches and a variety of snacks.
“I find everything I’m looking for every time I come,” said Jane Bishop, a frequent visitor of the flea market. At least once a month for the past 12 years, Bishop has driven from her home in High Springs, Fla., to the flea market to buy produce and other essentials.
Aside from being a good place to find items for low prices, the flea market also provides a venue for local residents to walk around, grab a snack and enjoy the weather, Blakewood said.
According to Bishop, the market has more “character and flavor” than a mall or supermarket, which is what makes it such a great place to spend the day. “When the weather’s nice, you can easily make half a day of it,” she said.
But it’s not just a place for visitors to enjoy; the dealers have a good time, too.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Carol Melvin, who has been selling jewelry, t-shirts, dolls and other items at the flea market for the past four years. “You get to meet a lot of nice people.”
Kimberly Brooks, who sells lawn and patio furniture a few spaces down said she just likes to “watch the people go by.”
“You get a lot more traffic at flea markets, with people buying a bunch of different things.”
Dealers can rent out a space that comes with two tables to display their items for $15 each time they come. Some are year-round dealers, others are seasonal and many just come once or twice to get rid of items they don’t need anymore.
The flea market first opened in 1975 after Blakewood’s parents, Al and Anne Killian, came across one while traveling cross-country in their motor home. “My dad was a true entrepreneur,” Blakewood said. “He really liked the idea and decided to open one in Waldo.”
According to Blakewood, it was the perfect location for a flea market. “We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it works because we draw people from everywhere,” she said. She recalls the first day the market opened, “It was a typical rainy day in August, and because my dad was good at advertising, people came from all over,” she said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate all the mud from the rain, and they had to call tow trucks to get all the cars out.”
Now the parking lot is fully paved.
But that’s not the only change the market has seen since its opening. In 1980, Blakewood and her husband purchased the flea market from her parents and expanded it to 50 acres from the original 40. They also added a 20,000-square-foot antique mall, which has become a popular spot for antique collectors as well as other visitors. Moreover, a traffic light was also installed in order to control the traffic going to and from the market.
There have been a lot of changes throughout the years, said Jim Faltz, a permanent dealer for the past 20 years and owner of “The Knife Shack,” one of the oldest stores in the market. “I’ve been around here for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” he said. But the one thing that has stayed consistent is the personal contact with each visitor.
“I like dealing face-to-face with people,” Faltz said. “I can have an exchange with them, it’s more hands-on and the customers really appreciate it, which means a lot to me.”
For Faltz, that one-on-one contact is the one thing he hopes will never change.
Blakewood said the “face-to-face contact” is one of the flea market’s biggest appeals, adding, “Where else can you go where people will actually take the time to talk to you and help you?”
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