Some come to browse, passing by the rows of tables, gazebos and tents, gazing at the antique glasses, jewelry, furniture and knickknacks, and if anything catches their eye, they buy it. Then there are those who come to hunt, scavenging through booths in pursuit of something specific. It could be a vintage vinyl record player, an ancient china dish set or even a postage stamp from 1936.
“When we open the gates at 8 a.m., there are usually 300 people already at the gates waiting to get in and a half-a-mile-long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot,” Allegan Antiques Market owner Larry Wood says. “We have three entrance gates, and it’s still difficult. If you haven’t been here before, it would blow your mind.”
The Allegan Antiques Market, a monthly antique and vintage-item sale held at the Allegan County Fairgrounds, gives customers the experience of shopping at 400 vendor spaces filled with a mixed bag of antiques and collectibles. Listed as one of 11 can’t-miss Midwest flea markets by Midwest Living Magazine, the Allegan Antiques Market attracts enthusiasts from all over Michigan and from neighboring Midwestern states, Wood says.
The market was started in 1978 by Wood and his wife, Lori. who visited antique shows while serving in the military in the Washington, D.C., area. Wanting to bring an antique show to his home area of Grand Rapids, Wood drove thousands of miles across Michigan to find potential sellers, eventually rounding up 190 vendors, he says.
He worked as a full-time firefighter for the Grand Rapids Fire Department at the time and ran the antique shows on the side. He began working on the antique market full time when he retired 20 years ago and has since watched the business flourish.
Today there are six Allegan Antiques Market shows each season. They are held on the last Sunday of the month, from April to September. Wood says there is no particular motive behind the schedule except for convenience.
“Plus, the schedule helps customers remember when the next show is — the last Sunday of the month,” Wood says.
Wood’s enterprise has evolved into a family business — his children and grandchildren have become essential members of the market’s operation. The demographics of the customers have evolved over the years too, Wood says, forcing dealers to adapt to the demands of the new customers.
“When we first started, customers were searching for traditional antiques,” Wood says. “Although some of our older customers are still coming for the traditional antiques, the younger customers are looking for repurpose products for their homes.”
Sellers rent booths for their wares, and the cost ranges from $70 to $75 per show, depending on the size and location of the space. For $375 to $400, dealers can get a season package deal, securing a spot for all six shows. Many of the dealers provide shipping, and the market has courtesy wagons to help customers move heavy products to their vehicles. The market also has seven food services, two picnic stations and a camping area for visitors and dealers.
Wood says customers can leave the market with an item as cheap as $4 or, as a customer did last year, an oil painting for $8,000. One perk that accompanies shopping at the Allegan Antiques Market, he notes, is that there is always some wiggle room for bargaining.
“There are always price negotiations. It’s part of the game.”