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Exhibitors draw thousands to downtown Canton square for 33-year-old flea market

Essential Business

Several years ago when Canton Flea Market organizers asked vendors if they would like to move the event from Thursday to Saturday, a day when more people would be free from work to shop, the answer was a resounding no.

Sure Saturday might bring bigger crowds, but Thursdays are a tradition across the South for the 33-year-old show and its fans. And there was another, perhaps more compelling reason the vendors voted no.

“Husbands,” laughs JoAnn Gordon, executive director of the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If we did it on a Saturday, husbands would come with their wives and say, ‘You don’t need that. You don’t need that.”’

Not to say men don’t comb the flea market’s rows of tents. They do, but everyone knows that any shopper, male or female, who makes time on Thursday for the flea market is there to do some serious shopping, not fill a lazy weekend or sight-see.

And so tradition continues for the Canton Flea Market, which has covered downtown Canton on the second Thursday of May and October since 1965.

On May 14, over 1,100 vendors — the market’s maximum — will set up their tents and tables of linens, hand-painted mailboxes, plants, wooden yard signs, weather vanes, and other crafts.

Francis Finane, owner of Thompson Spur Pottery near Raymond, has been pitching her tent at the flea market for 22 years. She remembers when the show was much smaller and vendor spots on the Courthouse lawn were first-come-first-get when the gate opened promptly at 6 a.m.

“Everybody stood at the gate with a chair and dashed through and put their chair down (to save their spot). Then they went back and got their stuff,” she said.

The Canton Flea Market of today is a much more organized event. Exhibits are by invitation only and each exhibitor must have a sponsor. Guidelines stipulate over 50% of exhibitors’ wares must be hand-crafted and market organizers frown on mass merchandising.

As the show has become more popular, exhibitors have spilled out from the Courthouse grounds to other streets in downtown Canton. Shoppers, who have likewise increased in number, arrive as the sun is coming up to get first pick of the crafts and stay until exhibitors pack up their wares late in the day.

Organizers expect this Thursday’s show to draw between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Even more shoppers come to the October flea market — over 50,000 at last year’s show in search of the perfect Christmas gift.

Finane said she has always preferred Thursday over Saturday because of all the other craft shows that are held throughout the South on weekends. “There’s so much competition now,” she said. “When I started, there were just a few craft shows. Now there’s one, four, five shows every weekend.”

Whatever the competition, flea market organizers have no doubt the crowds will continue to grow in Canton.

“The Canton Flea Market is the grandfather of all the shows,” said Gordon.

For more information on the flea market, call (601) 859-8055.

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