Up at 5AM, Searching for Treasure at Wolff’s Flea Market

On a whim, Liz and I decided that we wanted to go to the flea market that takes place at Allstate Arena on Sunday. I thought it was called the “Rosemont Flea Market,” but apparently it’s officially known as Wolff’s Flea Market.

It had been a long time since I was at Allstate Arena. Last time was in 2009, when I attended Liz’s graduation for her Master’s.

Here’s the thing with flea markets: they open freaking early. The doors were officially at 6AM, and I wanted to be there right when the public was let in. Having read over my friend Maureen’s book (Killer Stuff and Tons of Money), I knew how important it was to be there as early as possible.

For us, this meant waking up around 5AM. My alarm went off, and I promptly woke up, turned it off, and fell back asleep. Luckily for us, Liz set up a backup alarm… and we pulled ourselves out of bed around 5:10 AM. After a flurry of activity (getting dressed, feeding the bunnies their breakfast, brushing our teeth, chowing down on some oatmeal/toast), we were out the door. We stopped at an ATM, and were hauling ass towards the suburbs. I think we pulled into the Allstate parking lot around 6:10AM.

Near the entrance, Liz is looking back at a car full of bicycles.

There were TONS cars parked, and lots of tables already set up. When I asked one of the vendors when he arrived, one guy I spoke with told me he set up shop at 3:00 AM. And that he tried to get one of the front spots, but they were already spoken for.

Something about this converted yellow ice cream truck caught my eye. Liz and I have been watching America Pickers a lot… and I imagined these two guys traveling around, hopping from market to market.

Not sure what the head was all about, but it was super creepy.

For some reason, this old weight (on wheels) caught my eye. It looked great, and I’m sure it was expensive. I was interested in it, despite having no place for it and having no real need for its function.

There were lots of tables offering up stuff for $1. Take a peek at the robot in the corner and remember it. About 5 minutes later, I could have sworn I saw a guy walking the other direction holding this robot in his arms, having just bought it.

I LOVE old photographs. Whenever I come across old photos (like I did at the Vintage Bazaar in Pilsen), I get utterly lost. It’s like being able to peer into someone else’s life, and it’s an incredibly intimate and voyeuristic thing. I sifted through a few of these, and was told that each photo was $3.

There were a handful of people wandering around, and late vendors setting up shop. I happened to catch this guy skating by. In hindsight, a skateboard made perfect sense – the whole flea market was sprawling, and seemed to be an endless sea of booths and rows.

Star Trek and Flying Toasters. Set phasers to fun!

For every booth selling real, honest to goodness antiques… there seemed to be 5 that were selling mundane things like shampoo or flip-flops. Or oatmeal. Seeing stuff that was still on a truck palette and still wrapped in plastic was a bit… weird. Like it was something that “accidentally” fell off a truck, if you know what I mean.

The packed station wagon is what caught my eye. Again, I kept thinking of my friend Maureen and her accounts of what it was like on the road, with her antiques-dealer friend, Curt Avery.

A scale model of a mobile Al Hussein missile.

Lots of folks had cars and trucks, crammed full with stuff.

There were tons of retro toys everywhere. This guy had collectible dolls and cups for both Thor and Smurfs. Fitting, given the recent trend in movies to recapture heroes from the not-so-distant past.

The day got pretty hot, pretty early on.

In the areas where we were at, there were a lot of booths like this: random miscellany, and things I wouldn’t expect to find at a flea. Why buy a cheap, plastic fly swatter…

when you can have something more unique. Only $65 (each). I think these guys are used to keep flies away, but I’m not 100%.

Seven tapes, comprising the very best of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Not sure if this was a real scotch dispenser, but it caught my eye.

If you’re ever wanting a ton of old Playboy magazines… flea markets are the place to go.

Remember when Earwax Cafe in Wicker Park used to rent movies? I think they all ended up in four or five plastic tubs, at the flea market.

At a booth that had primarily comic book related stuff, I see… the same robot I saw, earlier in the morning. I asked for the price, and the guy told me $10. I asked him if it was something he brought, or something he had found here… and he told me it was something he brought.

Honestly, the guy was pretty straight with me and seemed to be on the up and up. But I could have sworn this was the same robot from a few rows over.

Lots and lots of machine guns.

Quite possibly the best salt and pepper shakers ever made.

Bedroom Ashtray: For Hot butts Only.

As the morning wore on, more and more people started to show up.

I didn’t catch it on film, but every once in a while… a huge plane would descend overhead. We were fairly close to O’Hare, and once in a while a big jumbo plane would look like it was landing nearby.

More people, more sun. Liz and I were both pretty covered in sweat by the time we left.

Awesome shark cookie jar, with some killer teeth. Wait… what’s that next to the cookie jar?

Oh, it’s just postcards of Hitler and Stalin. Naturally.

Death was for sale: $25.

This was my one big find. I saw some large boxes of photographs at a booth, and started sorting through them. I asked the guy if he would be willing to sell me the whole box, and he started by asking $100 for two large boxes. I paused and asked about just one box (the smaller one). I offered $30, and he kind of balked a bit.

The guy seemed a little shy, and mumbled a lot – never really looked me in the eye. He pushed for $50, and mentioned how many negatives there were in the box. I offered $40, and told him he could keep all the negatives. He countered with $45, but I was pretty maxed at $40 (it was all I had). After a little deliberating, he agreed and we sorted through the box together. He kept all the negatives, I kept all the pictures.

I haven’t had a chance to fully sort through things, but I’m looking forward to going through this box more. Might be time for me to actually buy a scanner.

You can find practically anything at a flea market. Including wedding dresses.

And boats! This guy was sitting in his boat the whole time, and I thought that was pretty spectacular. No better way to sell the thing than to show how good you might look, sitting in the thing.

Liz, picking over some sewing related stuff.

A fantastic astro-helmet TV that apparently still worked. Although… it only can receive one channel. I love the fact that it’s located next to a Mork and Mindy lunchbox.

Closeup of me in the astro monitor.

This helicopter was amazing to see. I wandered over, and got talking with the guy who owned it for like 10 minutes. Turns out, he used to fly this thing and won a few championships with it to boot. He kept talking about how fast the blades would spin, and how dangerous it would be (he cited crashes where trees were cut down, due to the blades).

The guy was super into flying planes and helicopters, and it showed. It’s hard to describe, but he was so incredibly passionate about his stuff… it was really kind of awesome.

Walking around, I spotted a woman wearing one of those umbrella hats I spotted a few days ago! Serves me right for making fun of those guys, since the sun felt pretty unrelenting by mid-morning.

On our way out, I spotted another one! Given how much the sun was beating down on us, I really, really could have used one of these guys. I should have stuck around and gone down another row… I’m sure someone, somewhere was selling one. Possibly for a dollar.

Killer Stuff And Tons Of Money: Seeking History And Hidden Gems In Flea-Market America
Liz’s Graduation And Celebration: Master’s Of Science In Applied Statistics
Vintage Bazaar, Pilsen
Umbrella Hat, Logan Square

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I’m a bit afraid to ask, but are those machine guns real or like… toys? And if they’re real, weapons like that can just be sold out in the open? What about permits? Inquiring minds need to know!

    Allison Reply

  2. They’re absolutely toys. Though I’m sure there are some open air markets where you can buy guns… just not sure what logistics are involved there.In our time at the flea, I never saw weapons of any kind, FYI.

    avoision Reply

  3. Hi! I’m Sharon Wolff from Wolff’s Flea Market. Thanks for visiting us! Your photos and story really captured the day! I’m impressed at how much you accomplished overnight, since you were just there yesterday. The Earwax movies were cool. I remember the $1 robot, and took a similar photo because I liked how the vendor’s booth was so orderly. Oddly, I noticed a lot of people walking around with those fly swatters. As for the guns, they are toy guns-battery powered to light up, make noise & basically annoy the parents. We don’t allow BB guns, air guns or any thing related to real guns. All toy guns need to have orange tips. The abundance of oatmeal is an unusual sight! Many of our food vendors attend grocery auctions or work as distributors and are licensed to sell food in bulk. They may get mixed batches, overstocks, short expiration dates, etc. Several have been with us for years. The “banana box” guy in the first row sells umbrella hats. Along with a lot of new merchandise, antiques and resale, everyone is sure to find something. See more of our photos on facebook, (facebook.com/wolffsfleamarkets) and feel free to post your own! Stop by the info booth in the building next time you visit to say “hi”.

    Sharon Wolff Reply

  4. Sorry but is that Robot Head Icon Alphy??? I used to have him as a kid. And did you seriously pass on the Mork and Mindy Lunchbox???

    Kirsten Reply

  5. Yup, my avatar is Alphie and I had one when I was a kid as well. I think I may actually have him in my apartment still, somewhere on a bookshelf.And I passed on the lunchbox because carrying it around would make me an easier target for bullies. Like normal people, I keep my juice money safe in my shoes. No one bothers me, and I can keep under the radar.

    avoision Reply

  6. Yes! This is awesome. I want to go to this some time this month b/c I wanted to go to the Kane County Flea Market, but I realized I’m out of town for every single one until October. LAME. I thought this might be a good replacement. I was a bit worried it would be more like the flea markets in Logan Square or west on Division, and it seems like there’s a bit of that, but there’s also a lot of cool stuff. I’m going to be in trouble…

    Marty J. Christopher Reply

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