By Cara Coleman
Acres of unfound treasure and rusted possibilities can be found on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the first Monday of every month at First Monday Trade Days in the little Texas town of Canton, 70 miles east of Dallas. Its reputation as the largest flea market in the world is what drew us—girlfriends Michelle Webb, Shaunda Goodwin, Christina Decker, and me, Cara Coleman.
With our cowboy boots peeking out of our weekend bags, carefully curated old school tunes on the radio and a little cash in our pockets, we headed southwest to what was soon to be one of the best Girlfriend Getaways imaginable. A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without a few scratch off lotto tickets, gummy worms, and a stop at Caroline’s, our favorite consignment shop in Little Rock, would it? Each time we stopped for gas we picked up a few lotto tickets and made enough to buy more at the next stop.
Before we made it to our destination we had to make room for our hopeful finds. A few miles outside of Canton, Michelle pulled out of the U-haul rental store with a nervous laugh. You’d never know she was an amateur at trailer hauling. We all watched the silver and orange metal box following close behind us with mama bird eyes making sure it was still attached after every turn, giggling at what our husbands would say about our trailer hauling shenanigans.
We rolled into Canton around 5 p.m. on Friday evening. Just enough time to hit Paul Michael’s, an absolute must for anyone seeking unique home décor or the occasional rocking rooster. Paul Michael has extended shopping hours during First Monday Trade days. They also have a location in Lake Village, Arkansas.
Any girls getaway wouldn’t be complete without the perfect lodging. In our case…a Blue Barn. The town of Canton is close to 5,000 in population but can grow to over 300,000 during each First Monday weekend. This means hotel accommodations are hard to come by and can become quite pricey. We found the Blue Barn through AirBNB located 40 minutes south of Canton. Actually finding it turned out to be one of the most comical experiences of the whole trip. It turns out that the Blue Barn is hidden down a private road not marked on our handy smartphone maps. After a few wrong turns due to nonexistent street lights, we ended up on a one-lane dirt road in the middle of the Texas countryside in the dark of night. A break in the nervous silence turned to snickers after I joked, “I’m pretty sure this is how the Texas Chainsaw Massacre started.” The three others were actually pretending that they weren’t all thinking the same. Of course we all had a good laugh once we arrived at our quaint location and appreciated the beautiful hill country view over coffee the next morning.
It is recommended that you arrive at First Monday Trade Days early for many reasons. Better parking, less crowds and good finds. So we did precisely that. Arriving early is also recommended should you need to maneuver a U-haul into a parking spot. Our fearless driver, Michelle, to the parking assistant, “Ma’am, I’m gonna need a larger parking space because me and this trailer don’t back up, we only circle out wide.” With a grin the parking assistant complied and showed us the perfect open spot. I don’t think we were the first “ladies with a trailer” she’d ever seen.
The first thing you will need when you get to Trade Days is a cart to hold your purchases. These can be rented for $15. Money well worth spending.
The second must is a map. The flea market extends to well over 100 acres and provides space for over 6,000 vendors. Among the places to shop are the Pavilions, Marketplace, The Village, The Mountain, The Arbors and The Dog Alley. Your map will be your new best friend.
The third must, and probably most important, is an appetite for amazing food. Situated among the tents and pavilions are plenty of opportunities to quench your thirst and refuel. You will work up an ample appetite from a full days’ worth of shopping. And fourth is comfortable shoes and clothing. We logged over five miles of walking on our trip.
The initial area we surveyed was “the fields.” Imagine acres upon acres of open-air booths that offer everything from hand-carved dough bowls to leftovers from the neighborhood yard sale. Bins and boxes overflow with old books, tools, and antique coats. Stacks of rusty letters and wrought iron yard art litter the grounds throughout this section of the market.
You will either love or hate this area. It really just depends on what you find to recover and bring back to life. Most vendors are willing to make a deal within reason as long as you are respectable. After we scored some good finds in the fields we moved to the pavilions, arbors and civic center. All 15 of them.
This is a covered booth area where you will have more elbow room to shop retail items that need less TLC. It’s a great spot to pick up gift items like tea towels, Christmas ornaments and picture frames. This area tends to be a bit more pricey but is equally as fun to meander through.
Some personal favorites from Trade Days:
Cara Coleman — Coca-Coca chest cooler (circa 1940’s)
Christina Decker — Large hand-carved dough bowl
Michelle Webb — Vintage postcard of Dickson Street, Fayetteville AR (circa early 1900’s)
Shaunda Goodwin — Reclaimed ceiling tile from a Topeka, Kansas bank (circa early 1900’s)
To cover the expansive property we split up in pairs. Cell phone service can be sparse due to the concentration of people so we’d often establish meet-up spots throughout the day. This is where we’d share a great spot to shop, a chocolate fried pie or two and an ice cold diet coke. Which brings me to the one of the best parts of First Monday Trade days. You simply cannot talk about Canton Trade Days without bringing up food. You can find just about anything to suit your tastebuds in terms of food at Trade Days. Beans and cornbread, hand-squeezed lemonade, turkey legs or a greasy cheeseburger, to name just a few. I think we all found what fuels us best. “Third meal in a row for street tacos,” boasted Texas native, Christina Decker, after enjoying a chicken fajita.
As the last few vendors packed up their tents for the night, we made our way back to fill the U-haul with our goodies. Most of the venders will hold your items with a sold sign, which allows you to start loading your trailer at the end of the day with the larger items you’ve bought. We’d also like to think that we sweet-talked a nice gentleman into hauling a large Coca-Cola cooler for us and loading it into our silver and orange sidekick.
After a long day of pioneering the “Largest Flea Market in the World,” we were ready to call it a day.
Most Girlfriend Getaways include fine dining and entertainment, but we aren’t most girls. We couldn’t wait to kick our feet up, throw a frozen pizza in the oven, pour a nice glass of wine and play a few rounds of Phase 10 on the patio of the Blue Barn. We entertained the neighboring cattle with stories of our time at Trade Days as our cackles echoed through the Texas countryside that night. We knew we had to get a good nights’ sleep because the next day held its own adventure…getting that U-haul all the way to Mountain Home! Shaunda Goodwin summed up the weekend experience best, “Canton was just what I needed…junk food on the car ride, great tunes turned way up, constant laughter with my girlfriends and unplugged evenings in the barn. The shopping was just icing on the cake.”
For more info about First Monday Trade Days, visit firstmondaycanton.com. Michelle, Shaunda, and Cara own Pig & Cotton Clothier, selling comfortable, casual, and current clothing with local designs. Visit them at pigandcotton.com. M! December 2016/January 2017