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Hit the Road

First Monday Trade Days

If you can’t find it in Canton, it doesn’t exist

By the time I finally had a chance to go there, I had already heard a lot about First Monday Trade Days in Canton, about 60 miles southeast of Dallas. World’s largest flea market. Thousands upon thousands of vendors and exponentially more bargain hunters. Going strong since 1850. I didn’t believe the word-of-mouth. I should have.

As I drove in on the first weekend of October, I saw thousands of RVs lined up on each side of the road and hundreds of plumes of grill smoke wafting up into the waning daylight. Rumbling Harleys passed me, their leather-clad riders gunning their engines and waving to the folks cruising the scene on piddling golf carts. Little ol’ me … and about 400,000 other people.

I stayed in a Bluebonnet Inn cabin on The Mountain—a section of Trade Days that some don’t even know exists. Owner Randy Stone—an Illinois resident except for First Monday weekend—was there to pick me up in a golf cart at the bottom of the hill. As we loudly sputtered past dozens of shops alit with twinkling, colored lights, he said that typically about 600 people stay for the weekend on The Mountain during First Monday. For nice-weather months and before the holidays, reservations are required a year in advance. “When it’s over, about 5 p.m. on Sunday, I’d say, it’s like the carnival left town,” he said. “All of this just dries up and blows away.”

My cabin was whimsical, with vines weaving through the trellis and an oak tree, sparkling with lights, coming up through the porch. A white wicker chair rested nearby, begging to be sat in. The Mountain—which includes lodging, shops and restaurants—is a cross between a Western movie set and the old streets of New Orleans with people celebrating on the porches and balconies of clapboard buildings built closely together.

As the wind carried the laughter and loud conversation around me, I walked down from the bed-and-breakfast section of The Mountain to where vendors were setting up for the weekend. My stomach was rumbling, so I decided to grab a bite, but suddenly a storm blowing in gained intensity. Tornado sirens blared, and Randy busted in spattered with rain and his hair askew. “Let’s go to the big restaurant—the walls are concrete there,” he urged. I followed his lead and nervously laughed as we waited for the storm to die down. After my waitress heard from her husband that no tornadoes were spotted, we went back to the Red Coach Inn restaurant and I finally got to eat.

I woke up early the next morning and made my way down to commence shopping. Here we go: dozens of pavilions, the village shops and even more vendors on the “streets.” I saw jewelry, screeching monkey slingshots, books, cosmetics, license plates, framed art, video games—there was a lot to see, and the vendors were on me in seconds!

After resting, I took the next shuttle to the main grounds and was serenaded by an older gentleman wearing traditional Bavarian lederhosen shorts. I made my rounds and practically had to elbow my way through the crowd to check out the jams, jellies, honey butter, salsas (I just had to buy the Texas Smoked Habanero Salsa from East Texas Gourmet Foods), dresses, hats, collegiate gear, outdoor furniture, kitchenware, perfume, birdhouses, musical instruments, toys, collectibles, leather goods, wind chimes, woodcrafts, pottery and purses. I refueled with a corndog (any food you can think of putting on a stick is available), watched artist Mark Persyn create an origial Southern-style painting and kept moving.

After seven hours of walking, I ended up in Dog Alley and cooed over baby goats, puppies and Shetland ponies, but I didn’t stay long. I was utterly spent, so I made the trek to my cabin for a nap. As dusk settled, I checked out the nightlife. I found myself singing karaoke with complete strangers; we made friends, and I was invited to a wedding. I went to bed that night exhausted, but satisfied with the overall experience. I never made it to the Canton Marketplace as planned, but I’ve got a pretty good guess at what they have: everything.

Ashley Clary is field editor of Texas Co-op Power.