New Leb Flea Market attracts consumers itching to collect

NEW LEBANON–Steel wool, vintage postcards, diabetic socks, tomato plants, shaker woodwork, Barbies, bearskin rugs, car batteries, it’s all for sale at the New Lebanon flea market. On grassy walkways behind the Hitching Post Cafe, tents and tables are lined up and crammed with items for sale. Customers mill around, visiting friends and neighbors.

The Sunday morning mainstay has been going for decades under multiple owners, most recently Paul and Maria Clark. Since the New Lebanon Supermarket closed in 2009, the Sunday flea and nearby farmer’s market bring practical supplies to the town, among large amounts of exotic junk, as well as a chance to socialize for many residents.

Rose worked as a cashier at the New Lebanon Supermarket for seven years before it closed. She worries about the isolated seniors in the community since the store’s closing. Now, she sits chatting underneath a spacious shade canopy, blowing a kiss to a friend. “Good morning darling!”

Rose calls the market, “adult day camp…I started to get interested in old paper…photographs, magazines, postcards, for some reason or another. I said, well maybe I could make some extra money and it just snowballed from there.” Searching through her wares I find kaleidoscopic rings, a photograph of a young Berlin girl eating summer watermelon, romance magazines, and rocky traces of trilobites.

A mix of the practical and collectable, a woman buys a sweater for her young daughter while her husband looks longingly at gold coins under glass.

The market has changed with the times, expanding beyond antiques. Eric Bink of North Greenbush, a vendor here since 1989, started off selling antiques and old toys. He now sells toiletries and non-perishables that his wife buys in bulk through savvy couponing, enabling him to charge “a minimum of half what you pay in the store.” In his free time he works doing tile, carpet, landscaping, and informs me he’s actually working on the driveway next-door.

Aside from the $30 weekly rate for vendors, the market cost is better measured in time and junk lugging. It’s a labor of love for many of the sellers that work full time during the week. Luis, of Stephentown, works as a firefighter there. He stands behind a display of Star Wars toys and a dining room set while Pink Floyd plays in the background. He says the flea market is “just something to get my mind off work and all that stuff, see people in a good way.” He started collecting G.I. Joe and rescue show memorabilia as a kid in the ’70s.

Joe Kelly, a retired Long Island resident, comes to the market to sell “general junk.” Asked how business is, he says, “There’s no business anymore, things are deader than dead.” He says he comes “to hang out, have breakfast, chit chat with the fellas, that’s all.”

A woman in leopard skin pumps lingers nearby, considering a small sculpture. On a patch of land that has been home to a farm, pill bottle factory and the Tilden Shops, the mystique of history and worry over the area’s uncertain economic future remains.

A certain zealotry exists among vendor-collectors, like Kevin O’Brien of East Greenbush. He’s been coming to this flea market for two years, selling military and novelty swords. In addition to supplying local enthusiasts, he maintains an 800-piece collection of swords, helmets–each on its own foam head–and even a military body bag, at his home.

Bernie, a former short order cook from Babcock, works the market with his two sons, making breakfast sandwiches and burgers. On line, a middle-aged man excitedly shows off the toy fire truck he just bought for himself.

Bob Spendiff, an active collector of Hoosick historical ephemera, has been selling here since 2004. A mannequin wearing a modified burlap sack with “Miss Vermont” scrawled across her chest leans against his van, while a coyote skull affixed to a wooden stump attracts customers to his table: “He was so ugly and mean looking, I had to have him.”

Mr. Spendiff says he’s already spent three times what he’s made this morning, but the day is young and there’s hope yet that a blacksmith will purchase tools from his array of iron or perhaps someone’s in the market for a Victorian prosthetic leg.

The New Lebanon flea market happens every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. March through November, weather permitting.

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