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Shipshewana: Tacky, Entertaining and Fun

By Gloria Diaz

Check out Gloria's Blog — Edge of Gloria!

Fort Wayne Reader

2006-08-04


There are some places I associate with summer. As a child, it was U.S. 30 Fireworks and the A&W Root Beer Stand. As I got older, I discovered the Shipshewana Flea Market. There’s all that quaint Amish stuff, and the antique auctions, but for years I completely forgot about Shipshewana, because the flea market only operates on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Due to my work schedules, I didn’t think about asking for a day off to go up there. Last summer, I had a chance to go up, and realized that during Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend the market has extended days and
hours.

So I went up last year and was quite surprised that Shipshewana has become a tourist draw. Aside from the flea market are restaurants, antique malls, buggy rides, and auctions. The town’s busiest time, I would imagine is on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the flea market is open.

And that’s the main draw for me. The flea market is like no other I’ve seen, with hundreds of booths offering a huge range of goods. Dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, baked goods, plants (real and silk) used and new clothing, tools, books, collector glass, old pop crates, perfume, Beanie Babies, t-shirts, shoes, VHS tapes, DVDs, rugs, blankets, craft supplies, towels, quilts, scrapbooking supplies, Avon products, custom wooden signs, hardware and household goods. It’s unbelievable.

I went up there recently and found stuff I wanted at great prices. I also got entertainment by way of the assortment of witty t-shirts available. There are several t-shirt vendors, some offering whimsical fare, others offering wacky slogans that are flat-out offensive. One shirt, aimed at the older crowd read, “Retired: now give me my damn discount.” Another listed reasons for hating Jeff Gordon; one of which was the fact that he wasn’t a Southerner (that was one of one of the milder reasons). For the portly folks, one shirt sported a motto that should prove reassuring: “Fat People Are Hard To Kidnap.”

If your lake cottage needs a sign reading, “Camp Want-A-Beer” this is the place to get it.

Need wrapping paper? Christmas cards in June? The flea market has them. I got a kick out of seeing some old-school Fisher Price toys I used to have when I was a kid. One of the cheesier booths (and one of my favorites) was the “As Seen On TV” booth. Admit it: you KNOW you need stuff like The Original Chocolate Factory, the Eggstractor, Miracle Foot Repair, the Pops-A-Dent and the Zip Wrench. If you missed writing down that toll free “operators are standing by” number, fear not. You can just zip up to the flea market. Oh sure, you could probably get on the Internet and buy all that stuff, but it’s more fun to
discover a bargain after walking on dusty gravel in 90 degree heat for an hour. The thrill of the hunt, if you will.

I’m really glad those who are jonesing for Russian stacking dolls depicting Michael Jackson or Elvis can find them here. Rave about Wal-mart all you want, but when it comes to variety, tackiness and sheer entertainment, Shipshewana has Sam Walton and his retail empire beat all to hell. And speaking of hell, one vendor was giving away a book entitled “Is America Headed For Armageddon? The Perfect Storm Is Coming.” Coming? isn’t it already here?!

I passed up the “Get Christie Love” movie on DVD, the Harper’s Bazaar Beauty
Book, and several outfits of lawn goose clothing, but one vendor was offering 3XL t-shirts for a mere $2.36 each, so I picked up a couple of them to use as sleep shirts. I also bought “Tootsie” and “Arthur” on VHS, a Canadian flag made out of wooden venetian blinds, and a t-shirt that says, “Not Only Am I Perfect, I’m Canadian.” (Yes, I was probably Canadian in another life, so sue me.)

And despite being a small town, the Shipshewana flea market offers an interesting mix of people. The shoppers are middle America, clad in flip flops, concert t-shirts, shorts, and Red Hat ladies in their trademark red and purple. Mixed among them are the natives, wearing somber Amish and Mennonite clothing, with some of the young girls sporting flip flops like their urban counterparts. The vendors range from good ‘ol boys selling shirts that say, “Welcome To America. Now Speak English, Dammit” to newly-arrived foreigners hawking fake designer handbags, shirts or perfume.

Summer and Shipshewana. I know the flea market goes until late October, but like Cedar Point, I associate it with blazing hot, sunny days, blistered feet, sweat and dehydration. You don’t have to buy that Rebel flag bikini if you don’t want to, but chances are you’ll find an irresistible bargain there. I know if I find that elusive Canadian flag bikini, I’m scarfing it up.

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