Why Flea Markets Are Better Than…Everything

Something about the flea market is transcendent.

flea market illinois teaset
PHOTO LENA KAZER

Today I spent three hours roaming the stalls of Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles, Illinois. I remember visiting the market as a child, enthralled with all of the glittery baubles and stacks of cards and nostalgia. There is something about old things that even children understand, a sense of dignity that objects hold when they’ve survived generations of being passed around and resold.

It’s easy to let your imagination personify the items you encounter: tobacco tins coated in rust and grit conjure images of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, while cloche hats and mountains of tangled costume jewelry evoke twenties starlets with beauty marks. There’s an innate urge to touch everything around you, to take in every broche and baseball card. Something about the flea market is transcendent. Looking at your mobile feels disrespectful, as if you’re shattering the shared feeling of old-timeliness that hangs like a cloud of smoke over the crowd.

flea market illinois maps
PHOTO PHOTO LENA KAZER

I feel meditative as I wander from stall to stall, running my fingers over rings from different decades and vintage cameras I don’t know how to use. Shop owners smile and pick at crinkly fries and popcorn from the nearby stands, rocking back in their chairs.

In all these years, nothing has changed. Squash-faced men in cowboy hats point at items and call out prices, elderly women cluster around fur coats, touting about their integrity, and acne-faced boys flip sullenly through video game bins. I’m just another wanderer, trying on amber sunglasses and burying myself in racks of designer purses.

flea market chicago illinois cameras
PHOTO PHOTO LENA KAZER

Time shrinks and expands, twenty minutes of methodically flipping through postcards, and then seven stalls without a second look. The summer air is thick with dust and sand and the sun is high in the sky.

When much of what we see everyday emanates from an incandescent screen, there is therapy in allowing your vision to blur across tables until something intrigues you. The flea market isn’t about power shopping; it’s about discovering treasure. It’s about taking your time and allowing yourself to pause. It’s about memories and stories and playing dress up.

It’s what I needed today, and what we all need once in awhile: to remember the joys of wandering. To giggle and kick up dust and feel tangible wonder toward the past, in a way that without thinking, enables us to briefly live in the present.

Lena Kazer

Lena is a Chicago native, her travel style consists of red cowboy boots that make her feel like she can take over the world. She adores Peru and can't travel without her journal to draw or write in.

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