A countdown timer on the Harvest Flea Market’s website is still tracking the time until the grand opening of a six-month flea market anticipated to draw anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 people to Garden City per weekend, and the constantly shifting numbers convey a sense of the unbridled optimism espoused by the event’s proponents.
What is often an empty lot on the southwestern end of the Finney County Fairgrounds is slowly being prepared for Saturday, when the Harvest Flea Market (HFM) will open to the public for the first time. If you miss it, don’t worry. It will continue every weekend on Saturday and Sunday, all the way into October, when it will end at an as of yet unspecified date.
The section of parking lot upon which the flea market will be held was long considered by local officials to perhaps be a place that wasn’t really worth maintaining. But with the potential community boon that HFM could bring, fairgrounds director Angie Clark says the flea market presents an opportunity to showcase western Kansas hospitality and stimulate the local economy at every storefront.
“Not only do they have the opportunity to patronize this venue,” Clark said of HFM, “but we hope to have them eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores on Main, take in all of the retail that our community has to offer.”
The increased traffic at a hitherto sparsely used lot is another benefit, she said. Almost 10 acres will be dedicated to HFM, which offers more than 300 vendor spaces.
For Mary and Jeff Arkebauer, the architects of HFM, the market represents an event of scope, scale and duration that southwest Kansas has never seen before, with wares ranging “from llamas to lampshades,” Jeff said.
The market will include full-time monthly vendors, permanent vendors who will work for all six months, and daily vendors who can choose which days to work the event.
Vendor prices start at $20 a day but vary by space.
Jeff said the event gives merchants heightened exposure for their wares, whether they work in Garden City or Johnson.
“The deciding factor for opening this business was, truly, honestly, how many people it will bless throughout the region,” Jeff said. “So many people will be able to start or expand businesses… Garden City is a hub. People are already coming here anyway. This adds one more reason for them to come and one more thing for them to do while they’re here.”
The market isn’t devoid of quirks. Jeff said he and his wife are “beachy people,” so instead of a traditional beer garden, HFM will include a “beer beach,” basically a big sand box designed for live music performances, lounging on patio furniture, gourmet hotdogs and beer — all set to a screen-printed beach backdrop in tropical western Kansas.
Jeff said it’s still uncertain how many vendors and shoppers will actually show up on opening day. “It’s hard to gauge something this new,” he said.
For now, there are between 20 and 25 full-time vendors on the roster, he said, and vendors can come and go as they please as long as they arrive in the morning between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and stay until later in the afternoon.
For shoppers, the event lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, with some exceptions. For example, HFM will be hosting an “Automotive Swap Meet” from September 14 to 16, a three-day event that Jeff said should draw about 15,000 people.
Market themes will also be organized every month. On May 12 and 13, the theme will be “Yard and Garden.” On June 2 and 3, the theme will be “Farm and Ranch.” The list goes on.
The attendance estimates given by the Arkebauers are based on their examinations of similar flea markets in cities such as Dallas and Denver that attract tens of thousands of people per weekend.
The Arkebauers toured flea markets all over the country, tracing through a dozen in Texas from Brownsville to Mission, all along the Rio Grande Valley.
Jeff said the idea for the event germinated during a family trip to the Bahamas last year, when the Arkebauers’ sailboat engine went kaput and they had to sail back to the states over the course of 10 weeks.
“We had a lot of downtime,” Jeff said, adding that a “Swap Shop” indicated on his GPS as an area attraction captured their attention. The massive scale of the operation impressed him, and he decided southwest Kansas needed something similar.
With six other businesses already under their belt, the couple decided to add one more. Jeff says he’s been an entrepreneur since he was a teen, having started between 30 and 35 businesses over the course of his life.
In Scott City, the Arkebauers run Trophy Beer Express, Trophy Wine and Spirits, Team Storm and Jerkylicious, just to name a few.
For Jeff, starting a giant flea market is the capstone to his love of nurturing new enterprises. He said he enjoys “the thrill, the challenge” of starting a new business, especially the marketing aspect. And a flea market, well that’s just a “massive marketing machine,” he said.
Admission to the market is $1, but season passes are available. For more information on shopping, vending and everything else, visit HarvestFleaMarket.com.