For $60, I filled the back of my SUV with treasures.
Where can you find everything from tomatoes to guitars to sledgehammers? Or better yet, where can you spend $60 and haul off enough stuff to fill the back end of your SUV?
I found out the answer to these questions last week when I visited to the Pickens County, South Carolina Flea Market. The mammoth market, open only on Wednesdays, is more than a quarter mile long and the oldest flea market in Pickens County.
But you better get there early. Open from 4 am to 2 pm rain or shine, it draws thousands of visitors on any given Wednesday.
To some people, selling at the flea market is a tradition. For $6 a table, or $8 if you opt for a table under the shed, you can park your pickup truck, spread out your wares, and wait for potential customers.
One of my favorite parts of the morning was talking to vendors.
Dan, who was selling an oil painting that attracted my attention, told me he had been coming to the flea market for 45 years. “People here are good folks, never had a thing stolen in all the time I’ve been here,” he said.
The only thing that kept him away was a bout of ill health when he suffered through cancer and blood poisoning.
“But I’m fine now. Fully recovered,” he said, confiding that he was a hale and hearty 79 years old.
Some of the vendors I talked with don’t limit their flea market sales to Pickens County. One man selling T-shirts attends a knife and gun show in Virginia every Labor Day.
When I remarked that selling T-shirts seemed an odd mix with selling guns and knives, he laughed and said he had been going to the gun show for 55 years.
His T-shirt booth was separated from the other vendors by a potholed, muddy road, so he wasn’t seeing much traffic on this particular Wednesday. But the colorful shirts fluttering on a line behind his table drew my attention, so I navigated a path across the mud and ended up buying two shirts.
Leaving the T-shirt table, my husband and I meandered around until we ran across a man selling chickens.
We were not in the market for chickens, but I told the vendor that two of my three children have chickens and they frequently fall prey to hawks.
The chicken salesman admitted hawks posed a problem to his chicken population, but the greatest threat was snakes. Then he launched into a narrative about the best way to catch a snake. “You catch them with a fishhook,” he said, “like catching a fish.”
Sensing a willing audience, he explained his method. “You select one fresh-laid guinea egg and tape a fishhook to it, then position the egg where you believe a snake is most likely to find the easy meal. The snake swallows the egg and the fishhook.” He said he had caught five snakes this way.
A boy about 6 or 7 seemed fascinated by the chickens, but his parents did not seem inclined to buy him one as a pet. This led me to ask the chicken vendor if he had sold many chickens.
“A few,” he said, “But last weekend was the best sales day ever. I sold 51.”
When we left the chicken man, my husband went to the car to unload a sledgehammer he had nabbed for $10. While he was gone, I came across a vendor in an orange Clemson T-shirt selling University of North Carolina hats. Being a UNC graduate, I picked up one hat, which was $3. But he said he would sell two for $5, so I took him up on the bargain.
I also ended up buying a package of Sharpies and a blinking flashlight before my husband returned.
Our next stop was the vegetable stand, where we purchased tomatoes and poblano peppers. This led me to decide on the spot that I would be making chili rellenos for dinner. My husband, who can never pass up another bottle of hot sauce, bought some hot Choy sauce before we left the vegetable booth.
We thought we had reached the end of the flea market, but after crossing another muddy path, we realized we were only halfway through. Tables of merchandise and crowds of milling people stretched as far as we could see.
Beyond the vegetable stand, which was in a covered area, we emerged into bright sunlight where a guitarist with a tip jar played Western music.
The enticing smells wafting through this part of the flea market reminded me of a fairground. When I looked around to see where the aromas were coming from, I spotted a man selling onion-laden hotdogs. But the best aroma was the Kettle Corn.
We needed to leave because my husband had an appointment, but I vowed to return and buy both a hotdog and some Kettle Corn the next time I came bargain hunting.
I didn’t have too many regrets about my flea market experience, though. For $60, we rode off with an oil painting, two ball caps, four T shirts, a sledgehammer, a gallon of chainsaw oil, a blinking flashlight, a package of Sharpies, tomatoes, poblano peppers, a carpenter bee trap, and a handmade leather belt.
Not bad for a couple of hours at the Pickens County Flea Market. And just in case you forgot to bring cash, you can visit the ATM.
The Pickens County Flea Market is at 1427 Walhalla Highway, 183 Pickens, South Carolina, nestled in the rolling hills of the Upstate. You won't regret spending time there.