Each year, a town of nine people off the North Kansas 7 Highway welcomes thousands of people from all over to shop for antiques and collectibles.
Entering its 39th year, the Sparks Kansas Antiques & Collectibles flea market remains a massive draw in this sleepy part of Kansas. It will start on Thursday April 29.
Led by Ed and Lynn Mez, who took over from operator Ray Tackett in 2019, the couple worked tirelessly to organize the event. With a completely comprehensive list of suppliers, this has paid off.
“I think it’s going to be bigger than last year for the fall. Fall was busy, ”Lynn said.
Held twice a year, the flea market has had to cancel its spring 2020 plans due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it resumed in the fall, the event was a huge success. The Mez are ready for an even bigger crowd this spring.
“(In the fall of 2020) people were ready to go out. They are definitely ready to go out now, ”Lynn said.
The flea market coincides with a shopping weekend in Kansas, as people travel between that and the White Cloud Flea Market, which kicks off Friday, April 30, a few miles away. For both of them, it’s a great business relationship.
After a heavy snowfall on April 20, the Mezs were busy setting the stage for the flea market for what Ed estimates to be around 100,000 over his four days.
“Each of us work really hard. We have to work all summer to keep it mowed and things. There is a lot of repair work, ”said Ed.
What is it in the market that is causing people to drive from all over this rural Kansas town? Some say it’s a vibe you can’t get anywhere.
Shawn Walker has been attending flea markets for at least 20 years. He said the thrill of hunting this rare antique is what drives him.
“In a sort of digital age, actual purchases are a rare thing. It’s kind of like going back to when you used to go shopping and make it a day, ”he said.
Frequent visitors often talk about things like the Mountain Man Breakfast and The Shoemaker at Chuckwagon, the Mobile Mansion, and the Firecracker Food Stand. For those in the know, it’s a party, and for newcomers, it’s a chance to soak up some rural traditions.
“I try to describe to my friends, like, ‘You drive through a small town in Kansas, eat food and look at antiques.’ They look at me like I’m crazy, but it’s a really great time, ”Walker said.
There’s one quality that Ed can’t quite put his finger on, but he’s happy that it continues to be popular.
“(I think it’s) word of mouth and people are talking about what we have here for sale. If they want it, we have it, ”he said.
While the flea market attracts thousands of people, the Mez don’t think it’s the most popular thing with locals.
“I don’t think the people here really care. I think they’re happy when it’s over because everyone’s gone, ”Lynn said.
When it comes to accommodation, Ed says he thinks neighboring areas with hotels like St. Joseph’s benefit the most.
“There is really nothing here. I mean, we don’t even have a motel here or anywhere. The closest people who can stay are Hiawatha and Atchison… and these are usually reserved, ”Ed said.
Ed and Lynn both talk about the flea market in a dry, wacky way, like they can’t believe people keep showing up there, but they’re happy to do it.
“(People) come up to me and tell me how good the show was. People call me and tell me how excited they are to come here. I say, “Wait till you get here,” he laughs.
Lynn added, “It’s crazy for sure.”
The Mezs said they plan to continue running the flea market in the fall and into 2022.
“We want people to go out and have a good time,” Ed said.
The Sparks Flea Market will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 29 to May 2.