Published: November 22, 2022
Review & Onsite Photos By Z.G. Burnett
NEW MILFORD, CONN. – The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market is a Connecticut institution owned by the Young family, attracting visitors from all over New England and the tri-state area to a field on Route 7, where hundreds of vendors set up their tables each Sunday of the season. Beginning on the nearby lawn of a Victorian-era home in 1976 when 15 vendors was considered a “big” day, the Trunk has now grown to more than 500 vendors on a typical Sunday. The definition of “typical” is subjective as no two Trunks are alike, with an ever-changing cast of characters who buy and sell each week.
Janet Riddles, head of Trunk operations, said of its longevity, “From the very inception of the Flea Market into our 46th year, we take pride in what we offer: a safe place for families, we have rules of what can be sold which are not offensive or dangerous as well as being secured… We have record crowds even as the end of [the] season nears.” As a “non-exclusive” flea market, anyone is welcome to sell as long as they adhere to a few simple merchandise guidelines that are clearly stated on the vendor application page.
As other areas of the antiques field slowly recover from the pandemic, the open-air Elephant’s Trunk did not break its march. Riddles added, “During the pandemic, we spread out our dealers to provide safety to them and to the public. This was paramount for us. As a result, we [are] recognized as the best weekly flea market in Connecticut and New England.”
This assertion is due in no small part to the care that’s exhibited both for the vendors and the customers. Reviews of the Trunk often comment on the range of food available, suitable for almost all dietary needs. Farmers also sell their crops at the Trunk, trucking in fresh produce as late as early November. “Even now, we continue to experience new and great food vendors,” say Riddles. “Every year it has grown.” This is no small attribute for a flea market, as there’s much ground to cover and a long day ahead.
Riddles greets vendors beginning at 4:15 am when the parking lot opens, and then again at 4:30 am when gates to the field open to admit advance ticket-holding dealers that have lined up in order to secure their space. Each have been assigned to a spot on the grid, printed out each week, and set to work immediately to accommodate early buyers. These prepaid ticket holders gain access to the field at 5:30 am, flashlights in hand, followed by another wave at 7 am. After 8 am, more casual buyers amble in post-brunch or church service until 2 pm, when free admission is granted to all, and vendors are permitted to leave their spaces.
The Trunk is unlike other antiques shows in that, like Brimfield or other picking fields, many dealers and shoppers prefer to remain anonymous. This is a compliment to the market, as some attend the market each Sunday during the season to stock their shops through the winter. “People really come out of the woodwork,” said Jake Elwell of Old School Antiques from Stamford, Conn. “You see all walks of life.”
The field is split between veteran dealers and newcomers; many of those we spoke with were setting up for the first time at the Trunk. One such vendor was Kevin Koschel from Newtown, Conn., who was selling an entire collection of antique and vintage radios. Setting up a table at the market is a great way to disperse such a hoard. Walter Weigel of New Milford, Conn., had a similar idea with his father’s collection of transits (surveying instruments), and has shown at the Trunk and Stormville Flea Market “for years.” Finer antiques are also in supply; a younger Connecticut dealer named Mark (no last name given) had also set up for the first time but was from a family of French and German porcelain collectors that up until then had only sold their goods online. He stood beside two tables laden with delicate pastel creations and by midmorning was already having a profitable day.
Dealers who have sold at the Trunk for as long or even longer than Weigel, some of whom have been there since the beginning, return because of the care and particular attention that’s shown by the market’s organizers. Janet is seen throughout the day riding on a golf cart, attending to issues as they arrive with her fluorescent-vested team. This makes the Trunk an inviting place for newer or less experienced dealers who are looking to learn the business or even just clear out their garage.
Mark Surowiecki from Meriden, Conn., of Three Brown Dogs Antiques, is a fine example of such a vendor, who currently sells while pursuing his graduate degree online from the University of Southern California. Specializing in antique cameras and photography, advertisements and ephemera, Surowiecki showed a cohesive stock of daguerreotypes, Twentieth Century cameras and Halloween decorations. He also offered objects from an estate sale of a coroner’s office he had recently attended and a reverse-painted advertisement for the Elgin National Watch Company (Illinois, active 1863-1968).
The majority of tables were less organized but no less appealing to intrepid searchers. In fact, there’s a contingent of buyers who treat the market almost as a competitive sport. “I love jumping into piles,” an anonymous customer said after paying, almost always in cash, for a bundle deal of goods. “It’s so satisfying to find something valuable [to resell], or even just really cool to keep for myself.”
The threat of rain persisted through the morning, and by 11 am raindrops sent vendors diving into their trunks for tarps and sheets to cover their wares. The inclement weather sent a slight shock through the field, with some sellers beginning to pack up right after the first shower. Not all customers fled the field and many vendors stayed until the seldom-heard announcement from the megaphone that allowed them to leave early.
For such a tried and true setup, Riddles is still improving the Trunk and adding features each season. “One of the biggest and enjoyable things I think we’ve provided in the past couple years was the introduction to the flea market band,” she said. “People enjoy the music on the field, and it creates such a comfort and fun atmosphere.” Riddles is currently booking new talent for next year and encourages all to “stay tuned.”
The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market is at 490 Danbury Road (Route 7/202). The final market is scheduled for December 11. For information, 860-355-1448 or www.etflea.com.
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