Meeting Joan and Bob at Wolff’s Flea Market

Though it opened up officially last weekend, Liz and I made it to our first Sunday at Wolff’s Flea Market, out at Allstate Arena. It was harder to get up super early, like we normally do… but we were able to arrive right around 7:00 AM.

When we showed up, the morning had already brightened up considerably. Which is great, since we were both worried we’d be needing flashlights.

One guy I spotted, sporting some great transportation. Technically, I think the bike belongs to the guy on the far left (the guy in it asked to take it for a spin, moments before I grabbed my camera).

I decided to change things up a bit, this visit. Normally, I stay near the vendors on the NW side (near the highway exit ramp). Instead, I made my way clear over to the other side of the parking lot, near the SE side, and started from there.

Most visits, I barely get beyond a small number of rows. Liz is an efficient buyer at these things, quickly moving to each both and determining if she wants anything or not: she moves, she appraises, she moves on.

Me, I just kind of lumber along with my camera in one hand, zig-zagging from one vendor to the next. If Liz is a busy honeybee, going from flower to flower… I’m a very large bumblebee, who just got done with a large meal and two beers.

Boxes, full with coins and keys. I know most of these keys probably are generic, but I couldn’t help the feeling that they all opened a specific door somewhere out in the world. Seeing these coins and keys together, it made me imagine their previous owners, their previous lives.

Looking at them made me feel like I could reach in, grab handfuls of each, and run away to start a new life, in some distant, faraway land.

An old school safe I remember, from my childhood. I don’t think I ever had one, but I think many of my friends did. Maybe my friend Aaron had one that I’m remembering…

I was surprised to see a very large, wooden case for someone’s Bible.

I opened it up, and this is what I found. I like that the Bible is a “Peace of Mind” edition.

What looks like an old candle holder, with what looks like a very old “Rules of the Tavern” sign. The odd thing is that the printing itself looks remarkably new, though I guess the body of the piece could be old.

It seemed like an item that would have some years on it, but there’s some part of me that feels this thing isn’t more than 20 years old, if that.

I have no idea. This is why I’d be a terrible antiques dealer.

Closeup of the “rules.”

Something about seeing a VHS tape of a Jimi Hendrix concert gave me pause, and got me pulling out my camera. The tape itself is from 1978, Hendrix died in 1970, and likely the concert is from sometime during the 1960’s.

The idea that his performance could be over 60 years old was kind of mind-blowing to me. All that time between now and then: it feels like yesterday, it feels like a lifetime ago. Old multimedia.

At a nearby booth, I happened to spot this box entitled “Juicy Words,” apparently a game of some kind. On closer inspection, its subtitle of “The Game of Oral Delights” also catches the eye.

Inside the box. Overheard question: “Can you actually say ‘lick’ on the air?” Overheard response: “I guess it depends on the words that come before and after it.”

When I was photographing the game, I didn’t realize the game was sitting on top of a pile of items, belonging to the woman next to me. After I asked permission to photograph the box, she showed me a few illustrations from a book she was looking at. The two of us fell to talking, and I spent a good amount of time with her, chatting back and forth.

The woman’s name is Joan (though it’s pronounced Jo-Ann), and she also has a blog. She also runs a brick and mortar shop, along with her own Etsy store. Joan went so far as to point out that she grabbed the same username on Etsy, since Google tends to rank you better if your name matches.

I talked about my friend Maureen’s book (Killer Stuff and Tons of Money), and learned from Joan that the guys on American Pickers take a really, really low profit margin. They apparently go for something like 20% profit on items, whereas according to Joan… some resellers go after items they can get 10x the price paid.

Hearing about Joan’s 40+ years of experience buying and selling, I told her I’d find it fascinating to follow her around for a day… to see what her “work” day was like. At this point, she introduced me to Bob (he was the vendor that ran the table, where I met Joan). Joan and Bob know each other well, and apparently have had booths next to one another for a long while now. As she was introducing me to Bob, she got Bob to share one of his most recent stories.

Turns out Bob hits up estate sales, and was at one recently that involved a lot of dolls. A LOT of dolls. The woman who owned the dolls was, according to Bob, “obsessed with Shirley Temple.” The house was filled with them, apparently.

Here’s the thing though: the estate sale was for a woman in her 90’s. This woman was the daughter of the woman who collected all the dolls. Over time, the daughter was unable to maintain the house and it resulted in everything needing to get sold.

Something happened with the house’s plumbing, resulting in a layer of sewage (yeah, that kind of sewage) all over the house. And rubble too, apparently. So all throughout the place – the floor and ground is just terrible, and full of the grossest things imaginable. And above it, all these “pristine” dolls in every room.

I can’t remember the term for it, but I think it was “blind bid” or “sealed bid.” The estate wasn’t done like a regular estate sale – no auction, no selling of items one by one. Apparently, it was one price tag for the entire estate. This had something to do with the fact that the daughter was a ward of the state.

Bob bid $20,000 on the estate. And he lost by $700. Isn’t that crazy?

I spent a good long while more, listening to Bob tell other stories: I learned about the “cat whisperer” his wife hired, and also found out about Bob’s past, as an accountant that used to travel the globe. Bob, ever the vendor, would be taking money and giving change, even during the telling of his own stories. Joan told a story about how Bob once sold all his items before 6:30 AM, and ended up selling his booth space back to Wolff’s to boot!

After a considerable amount of time, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. I have to say – I had an incredibly enjoyable morning, meeting both Joan and Bob, listening to their stories. It was like getting a glimpse of this other world, and it was just nice. Very enjoyable, very fun – and both of them were very nice.

A few moments later, as I was trying to write up some notes on my phone, Liz sent me a text telling me she was ready to go.

After we met up, I found out that Liz was behind me, during the first part of my conversation with Joan. We looked to be deep in conversation, so she didn’t want to disturb us (and ended up buying a buttonholer from Bob). Liz was amazed when I told her that I was talking to Joan and Bob for that entire time, from when she first saw us to when she finally texted me.

We were making our way out to the car when Liz mentioned having seen some old photo albums. We circled back, and she took me to a few booths she had passed (remember that honeybee/bumblebee analogy).

A gorgeous looking cash register. Wish I had an occasion to need/use one of these guys.

A very large and ornate clock. I’m not sure if it’s valuable or not, but it definitely looked impressive.

I found an autograph book, but when I asked about the pricing… the two people at the booth didn’t have one for me. They were looking after the booth for a friend, and they asked if I could wait for about 5 minutes. I ended up passing on it (though it did seem kind of neat). I don’t see a ton of autograph books, and this is probably the first I’ve seen at Wolff’s since I found my first one.

We swung back to the booth were I first spotted the Jimi Hendrix VHS tape. On the ground, behind the table, Liz had spotted a box of old photographs, marked as $11.50 for the box.

Usually, old photographs will go for anywhere from $0.50 to $2.00 a piece. Folks will simply set them out on the table, let people root through them, selling them one at a time.

I asked if the guy would take $10 (which seems like why the box was priced at $11.50 to begin with), and he agreed. The box wasn’t chock full, but had a decent amount of photos. Seemed like a good deal to me.

The thing of it is, though – what will I do with all these photos? I still have a shoebox full from last year. I love old photographs… and love digging through them, peering into these distant lives from another time.

I have a scanner, and some good intentions on scanning everything… but I really wonder if I’ll get around to that. Liz is encouraging me, which is good – but part of me wonders if I’m going to start slowly amassing this ginormous collection of old photographs.

Who knows, in another year or so, perhaps I’ll have so many old photos… I’ll need to get my own booth at Wolff’s. If it comes to that, perhaps I can hit up Joan and Bob for some tips.

Up At 5AM, Searching For Treasure At Wolff’s Flea Market
Early Morning At Wolff’s Flea Market
Old Multimedia

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Did you buy the Juicy Words game? How could you not?

    Maureen Reply

    • It was tempting, but the find belonged to Joan (who kindly let me photograph it).

      avoision Reply

  2. I enjoy reading your blog post about our market. Let me know when you want a space It will be on me.

    Dave Wolff Reply

    • That seems like an odd location for a space. But who knows!?

      Alastair Evans Reply

    • Thanks very much for the kind words Dave, and for the very generous offer. May have to take a raincheck on that, and amass some things to sell first! But man… would be interesting to see what life is like, on the other side of the table.

      Stumbled across a post you wrote, offering up tips to sellers. Am currently doing a quiet catalog of all the items in my apartment…

      avoision Reply

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