NEWFANE — Back then, it was like watching an old friend die slowly. Painfully and slowly.
For decades, the Newfane Flea Market was a deeply woven part of the fabric of my Vermont existence.
Every Sunday from spring to fall, I would fall out of bed at dawn and run up Route 30 to the market, getting there when the vendors were still dusting and putting out their wares, and a hardy tribe of buyers like myself were rooting through the merchandise in the hopes of scoring that one pure thing - whether it was an ancient cast iron skillet or a gold locket or an antique train - that would make life better for them.
At least until the day after they got it home.
This was back when the flea market, owned by the Morse family of Newfane, covered two adjoining lots and parking was in another field farther afield.
I found the Coach bag I still use every day there for $5. (Someone recently offered me $40 for it.) The glass canisters in the kitchen. The beautifully crafted sculpture of a Vermont garage. Two down blankets. Vintage clothing (before the word “vintage” was even used to describe old clothes).
There were flowers and hot dogs and a real lemonade stand and a real dollar store as well.
Yes, I was a Newfane Flea Market addict. But so were a lot of folks. You know who you are.
It started to die slowly, as vendors disappeared into the online world of eBay, Craigslist, and their ilk. First one side of the field became a parking lot, then there were only a few vendors in the other, then almost none at all.
And I stopped going.
* * *
So it was with joy rising in my heart that I heard the Newfane Flea Market would once again be opening for the season.
It will be a different flea market, to be sure. I don't know if those mom-and-pop vendors with “collectibles” that now go for a fortune are still in the business - back then it was just a pretty flower pot with the word “McCoy” stamped on the bottom, and it was worth about $1, not $250 at auction.
But last week I went past the big yellow sign - “The Original Newfane Vt's Oldest Weekly Flea Market Since 1967”- and saw another sign: “Opening May 29th.”
Tears fell. Literally. I had to park and stare at the empty field for a while before I could drive again.
* * *
It won't be the same market, of course. The woman behind the reopening, Julia Tadlock, 37, has been doing the Harmony Lot crafts market during Gallery Walk in Brattleboro for a while now, and she expects the vendors will be primarily drawn from the arts and crafts communities in Windham County, at least at first.
But she also has plans for a “Garage Sale” tent, in which people can bring their own tables and try to empty out their attics. (“For 20 bucks, you bring the table and all the crap you want to get rid of,” Tadlock said.) I plan on using it to empty my attic of things I bought at the Newfane Flea Market in the first place.
Tadlock was born and bred in Windham County, growing up between Putney and Brattleboro. She left to study theater and live in New York for a while, but she came back pretty quickly after completing her degree.
“I started teaching theater at various local institutions such as The Putney School” she told me. “Then I was a theater teacher at Vermont Academy for a long time. I directed at New England Youth Theatre.”
There was a stint pursing filmmaking in Austin, Texas, for a time, but during the pandemic she returned home.
“I have been making jewelry for eight years now,” Tadlock said. “I have a small jewelry business called First Water Jewelry. And six years ago, I decided to get together a few friends to sell other makers, other craftspeople that I knew.”
The group rented a storefront at 80 Main St. in Brattleboro.
“It was in December 2017, I believe, that we rented the Yalla space before it was Yalla,” she continued. “And we had just a little pop-up Christmas, or holiday, market. We didn't think it would be too much beyond that, but it was really successful.”
Tadlock continued organizing markets in the area, and her group began calling itself the Main Street Fleas.
“We started organizing annual and sometimes twice-a-year markets throughout Brattleboro,” she said. “And then, during the pandemic, we started up again. We did a couple of outside markets in the Harmony Lot.”
And then last year, she said, “I was tapped by the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance to organize a resident makers' market in the Harmony Lot during Gallery Walk.”
The group did six outdoor markets during the season, collecting more than 50 vendors to sell their work.
“Now I'm organizing these markets and selling my own work when I can,” she said. “But I kind of just fell into it accidentally and naturally, and my theater background gave gave me some experience in organizing people.”
Her group, now called Brattleboro Flea, will be back on the streets on May 6 for the start of the 2022 season of Gallery Walk. But this year, Tadlock will be organizing those eight markets as well as the Newfane Flea Market.
How did this new idea come to her?
“I was working at Big Picture Farm in Townshend and driving by the Newfane Flea Market plot every day on my way to work,” Tadlock said. “I kept seeing that 'for lease' sign, and one day it just kind of dawned on me that I should do it.”
The flea market, as well as the land it is on, is owned by Billy Morse, who first started running it in 1967, and by his nephew, Jesse Holden. For many years, including quite a few when the flea market was still running, the property had a “For Sale” sign on it.
But Morse and Holden never sold the land, and recently their plan to put up a tiny house village on the site was shot down by the town.
Now they are leasing the property to Tadlock.
“I felt that growing up here and remembering what the market was, and what it could be, and feeling pretty uniquely qualified, based on my experience running the Brattleboro flea market, I reached out to Bill,” she said. “And the rest is history.”
“We've been working together,” she continued. “He doesn't really have anything to do with this year's market. But he's given me a lot of tips. He's really excited to see it up and running again. It's been great to collaborate with him.”
* * *
Expect the vendors to be different, Tadlock warned.
For one thing, the name on the website now is officially the Newfane Flea and Farmer's Market.
“I really want it to still have that sort of funky flea market quality, for sure,” she said. “But we are also focusing on bringing in lots of local craftspeople and makers, farmers and food vendors and bakers, and all sorts of different people with established businesses and products to sell.”
“So I'm not solely relying on vendors coming up from Florida or wherever they came from,” Tadlock said. “I'm hoping that we'll attract that over time, but I don't think that's a solely a sustainable market.”
Still, there will be the yard sale tent.
And mainly, Tadlock is hoping the flea market will once again become a community gathering place.
“It's an inclusive event,” she said. “It's family-friendly. It's Covid-safe. This should be a meeting spot for people to come on a Sunday and just have some fun, get some good food, and pick up some some funky treasures and a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce. And it should be able to support local small businesses, as well.”
“Everyone has a wonderful memory of how it used to be,” Tadlock said. “We don't want it to be just a tourist trap or a fancy craft market.”
“We can attract non-local visitors, but also have something for everyone in the community - a way for everyone in the community to not only sell their stuff, but to re-engage with friends and neighbors after two years of not really being able to do that,” she said. “So it's kind of perfect timing for it.”