Best Flea Market

Fairmont Flea Market

Held every weekend, this is not one of the area's giant, overwhelming flea markets. It's manageably old-school, held in the parking lot of a former car dealership, where half the vendors just pull up, pop the trunk, and pile their wares on top of card tables. A fine example of mom-and-pop capitalism at its most laissez-faire. The sights are as fun as the finds: a big fatty in a lawn chair, holding an umbrella as sunshade while she tries to convince a skinny-minnie to buy a $3 dress: "It's brand-new, but it fell off the hanger and lost its label, so then I had to wash the dirt off." How did perspiration stains get in the armpits of a brand-new dress, we wondered as we watched the sucker fork over her bills. The other half of the vendors work out of sheds, and that's the manly half, heavy on post diggers, lawn mowers and toolboxes stocked with useful implements of varying vintage. A strong Hispanic presence offers cowboy boots, Jesus and Mary prints and tamales. We found some great collectibles amid the Brat Pack videos and tube socks: Here Come The Judge! (the paperback autobiography of Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham); stacks of early-'60s graphic bonanza magazines like Popular Mechanics and the Family Handyman; a green plaid metal picnic basket from the '50s. The last item will come in handy for our next visit — this flea is within a mile or two of three recreational hotspots: Cahokia Mounds, Horseshoe Lake State Park and, of course, the racetrack.

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