The dilapidated brick building of H&B Woodworking sits across the street from a weedy railroad on East Main Street in downtown Plainville. It may not look like much with wooden boards covering its windows and dated teapots and glassware resting on a shelf that faces the street. Above its large, wooden, double doors hangs a red, white, and blue flag proudly proclaiming: ANTIQUES in bold, black letters. A family of four exits with smiles, the parents fondling a vintage camera and the children skipping along while playing with Batman and Superman action figures from the sixties.
This gathering of antique vendors is a treasure trove waiting to be plundered. A tradition in Plainville for the past twenty-five years, the Flea Market at the Crossing operates every Saturday and Sunday from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon.
Entering the building presents a choice, as the flea market operates on both the top floor and basement of this three-story building. Descending the wide stairs to the bottom, the air is filled with the musty scent of antiques. Yet there’s not a speck of dust to be found amongst the collections. Elderly couples, still buttoned up in their winter coats, walk slowly about the floor, and a young college student with bleached hair and a nose ring places her newly purchased Coca-Cola desk lamp into her backpack. Some of the dealers are in their late thirties, moving about their wares with eager smiles on their faces. Others are seniors, resting comfortably in their chairs as they gab with their neighbors. Yet all of them remain alert, ready to hawk their wares and approach anyone whose eyes rest for more than a second upon their collection.
Each dealer rents either a ten-by-fourteen-foot space or a double wide to house their treasures, and each is notably different from the last. To the left of the entrance is a polished glass case full of antique rings, necklaces, and brooches on silver chains, each fitted with emeralds, sapphires, rubies, amethysts, and every other kind of colorful gem imaginable. The case itself sits atop a burgundy steamer trunk without a scratch or chip. Everything visible is for sale. To the right is a space dominated by sports memorabilia. Baseball cards, Super Bowl rings, and Starting Lineup action figures of soccer, football, and baseball athletes all surround a glass case of switchblades and knives, sporting a rainbow of patterns on their handles. The dealers do not bark from across the room, yet when they smell a potential sale they readily inquire, “Want to know more about what you’re looking at?”
“Usually, vendors begin as collectors,” says Ken Pelletier, the antique coin vendor with ash-gray hair as his blonde chihuahua warily eyes customers from inside a wooden basket. “And then they accumulate too much, so they decide to sell some of it. That’s generally how people get into this business.” His space sits just at the end of the finished basement, greeting customers with a sign that reads: ALWAYS BUYING COINS & COLLECTABLES.
Each coin is carefully packaged into white paper sleeves and arranged by year into uniform rows in his three-ring binder. His space is also shared by another dealer, who has stacks upon stacks of cardboard boxes and milk crates, each housing vinyl records from the forties through the nineties. Pelletier has been peddling antique currency for twenty of the market’s twenty-five year lifespan. “I do okay,” claims Pelletier about his profits. “Some vendors are happy just to make the rent. It’s a social thing for them.”
But not every dealer is as organized as Pelletier. Across the aisle is a varied collection, sprawled out like a wide net, hoping to catch potential buyers. The shimmer of jewelry sprinkled amongst weathered book jackets and Christian idols may look like a mess, but its sheer variety is more likely to arrest the attention of every passerby.
The traffic flow downstairs leads to an arrow pointing to the third floor that houses the rest of the flea market’s dealers. Before reaching them, however, is the office of Lydia Witik. She’s the owner of the building as well as H&B Woodworking, a design office on the second floor that oversees the remodeling of homes and businesses. Inside, Witik is brewing a cup of tea in a kitchenette she designed. Her wide, black glasses rest firmly at the top of the bridge of her nose as she makes her way back to the large, white desk she conducts business on. Sweet and soft-spoken, Witik has a passion for woodworking and an appreciation for collectables.
The building was purchased in 1998, yet her company occupied only the second floor, while the top floor was reserved for a magician that used it as a practice space. “But then he vacated, and we couldn’t think of what else to do with the place,” Witik recalls, “and somebody said ‘Oh, you should start a flea market!’ and I was totally uninformed as to what that required.”
Undaunted, Witik advertised for vendors, received promises of attendance, and organized a grand opening. Yet on that first day, only one man showed up with one table of wares to sell. “So then I just called anybody I knew, asking them to please set up shop if they have anything to sell. From there, it slowly evolved into what you see today.” And from that one table, Witik has curated eighteen unique vendors with expansive wares to sell. The collection of vendors at the Crossing, however, isn’t exclusively about making a sale. After decades of purveying their wares side by side, they’re a community.
On the top floor, the flea market is bustling with both customers and vendors, holding even more room for tables of antiques. A vintage radio blasts “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac throughout the halls. The sunlight from outside shines through the faded glass windows and makes the gold and silver rings glisten in their cases. United by a shared interest in antiquing, this community offers a much needed reprieve from the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. State restrictions have eased, and it has finally become socially acceptable to leave the house. The flourish of activity on this floor is a testament to the desire all humans have to socialize once again.
Perched on a stool at the top of the stairs sits Jeff Sobiech, an elderly purveyor of cameras and photographs, dressed in faded jeans and a black T-shirt with a camera on it. Though his hair has turned white, his eyes maintain a youthful glimmer. “There’s a lot of different things at flea markets,” Sobiech says with enthusiasm as he waves his arms across his wares, “so one of the things I like to do is have a story for the collection I’m selling.” Sobeich digs his hands into what he calls the “Olga Steckler Collection,” an old briefcase full of photographs, brushes, linens, and countless other trinkets, which he acquired from Steckler’s estate sale.
“Olga was a famous model from the forties to the sixties in New York City, and she was friends with Marilyn Monroe and even dated Salvador Dalí.” Photographs of Steckler line the suitcase, including a photo of Dalí’s famous work, Women Forming a Skull, in which Steckler is one of the models that gives the skull its shape. Olga Steckler’s captivating story is but one of many to be told at the flea market. Stories of the past are shared with customers, who continue writing those stories themselves after making a purchase. Sobiech reports, “I’ve gone through trays of this stuff!”
To the less discerning eye, the Flea Market at the Crossing may just look like clutter heaped across a table at low, low prices, but to the more astute, it’s a window into an era of the past and an opportunity to own a part of history. “Either you love flea markets or you hate them,” says Witik of the polarizing nature of the vintage business. “Some people come in here and go ‘Oh, this is just an old pile of junk.’ And for others, they spend the day because it’s a trip down memory lane, and they think, ‘Oh, my grandmother had that!’ and so on.”
The true value of the flea market’s wares are up to the buyer. A faded, silver ring with a skull on it may not be very enticing as an online listing, but finding one for ten dollars at the local flea market sure makes it more interesting to tell a friend about. Upon his stool on the third floor, surrounded by like-minded collectors, Sobiech asserts, “A story with a piece makes it much more valuable!”
Header Photo Credit: John Gavin IV
John Gavin IV is a Staff Writer for Blue Muse Magazine