Searching for a good bargain
Every Friday, weather permitting, 250 acres of rolling farmland become Columbiana County’s largest population center for a few hours, a rolling sea of hot, sweaty and sunburned bodies in search of one thing: a bargain.
The Rogers Flea Market can attract up to 60,000 visitors on some Fridays, says auctioneer and manager Wade Baer, whose family owns and operates the venture. Some people bring their own wagons or carts to carry their purchases, others rent motorized chairs to go from stall to stall. Others have their kids on leashes; some bring their dogs.
The effect is unsettling: Sometimes it feels as if you’re in the middle of a scene from Mad Max with people bouncing from one side to another in a frenzied mass of humanity.
“This is the Disneyland of Flea Markets,” says Rogers spokeswoman Kymberly Seabolt. Having been to several others, I wouldn’t disagree.
The flea market can have more than 1,800 outside vendors on some key Fridays, and 350 inside the various barns. Baer says that there are usually between 60 to 70 food vendors, and between 10 to 12 produce vendors.
“Antique dealers make up a third, while those selling general merchandise make up the rest,” he says.
Outdoor vendors pay $21 to set up shop for the day; indoor vendors pay $25.
Vendors start calling on Wednesday to reserve their favorite spots, which go quickly.
“We have 16 hold lines and they’re always busy,” says Baer. “Sometimes I just leave the building to stop from hearing them.”
And you can buy almost anything in Rogers from vegetables and fruits, to old push mowers, to guns and rifles to flags and Nazi helmets. Need underwear or socks? Come to Rogers. How about rubber bands or plates? Dishes or paper clips? Georgia peanuts or hanging flower pots?
Rogers seemingly has it all.
There are just a few no-nos.
“You can’t sell fireworks, pornography, drug-related paraphernalia and counterfeit goods,” says Baer. “We also banned the sale of pets a few years ago. Someone posted some photos of puppies on Facebook, and we had PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activists complaining.”
The strangest item that Baer has seen for sale?
“Coffins, unused of course,” he laughs.
The market began 62 years ago. Today, it takes place every Friday while the Baers also hold a large on-site, farm auction the first Tuesday of each month.
“My granddad Emmett, started things as a produce and eggs market and it grew from there,” he says. “We initially had three to four acres, and now we have 250. The flea market just sort of happened.”
Wade and his family oversee their operations with a workforce and facilities that outpace many municipalities in the county. Five to six guards provide security and keep order, while up to 30 portapotties are situated in strategic locations.
Overseeing the operations are 20 full-time employees, of whom, half are family members. Baer’s brother, Kenny, is the president. Operations proceed smoothly and the family avoids major disagreements.
“We all get along pretty well,” Baer says. “Working in auctions, we have seen whole families bust up over stupid stuff, and we have never let that happen to us.”
The biggest problem is traffic control.
“During some peak Fridays, we have traffic backed into Pennsylvania, Lisbon to the east, Beaver Local High School to the south and Columbiana to the north,” says Baer.
Rogers’ location guarantees it a steady flow of visitors. Nearly equidistant from Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the flea market draws visitors from a wide swath of the country. In the parking lots, which stretch for miles, license plates from across the country can be spotted.
“This is just wonderful,” says Patricia Jeffcott from North Canton, a first-time visitor, clutching a bag of strawberries and other produce. “I just love the aromas, the fresh doughnuts and fruits.”
Mirroring the make up of buyers, vendors come from all over the country.
David Williams from Canton is one of them. Williams sells vegetable peelers, and brings his dog Flossie with him. Behind his podium on which he demonstrates his tool, Flossie is reclined on a pillow, oblivious to everyone.
“She’s a flea market dog,” he says. “She knows her place.”
To see the entire market, Baer says shoppers may have to trudge a good two to three miles, sometimes in sweltering heat. His advice is simple: “Wear comfortable shoes. Drink plenty of water. Come in a good mood. And be prepared to walk!”