Canton is a small town with a very popular tradition. Once a month, approximately 400,000 people descend on this quaint farming community of 3,500 for a single weekend to trade, barter, and sell their wares.
The tradition, known as First Monday Trade Days, is held the Thursday – Sunday BEFORE the first Monday of each month. It is the largest and oldest open-air market in the United States, because of this it is truly a shoppers paradise!
In the beginning
Trade Days started in the 1850’s. Towns in those days did not have their own courthouse, judge, or sometimes, even their own sheriff. A circuit judge would travel from county to county holding court sessions on specific days to settle disputes and see that justice was maintained and upheld. Canton’s designated day was the first Monday of the month. Residents from neighboring ranches and towns would travel to Canton bringing cattle and horses to sell and to conduct a variety of other business.
What to expect
Canton is one of the largest outdoor markets in the US. We had no idea. We thought it would be fun just to check it out one afternoon. When my husband and I walked through the front gate, we were amazed by the size! We did not know which “lane” to explore first. It seemed like there were vendors as far as we could see down each lane. We realized that this was not a quick trip, in-and-out market. No Sir, this was an all day or even a whole weekend event! We should have known this was not a typical small town market because of electric motor scooter rental booths at the gate.
The Canton Marketplace has a varied assortment of pavilions, buildings, and unreserved spaces. The pavilions house the more established “regular” vendors who rent their location for the year and they sell new items and have the feeling of a regular store front. I found an eclectic range of things for sale, varying from country or western themed clothes and household goods to metal yard art, to gourmet treats for my furry four-legged friends. These vendors are more stabilized in the marketplace, I found that bartering with them was a bit more difficult, but hey, who does not like a good challenge.
Unexpected treasures to discover
The unreserved spaces are “first come, first to get the shady spot out of the Texas heat.” This is where I found truly unique and unexpected treasures and finds. It was incredible to see the rows upon rows upon rows of vendors! They laid out blankets, set up tables or had the back of their trucks open piled with goodies that came from an old barn somewhere. I just love digging through boxes to find an obscure item and imagine how I can repurpose it. There were tools, furniture, old photos, salvaged architectural pieces, handmade cedar furniture, toys, antique books, and household items. These vendors are very open to bargaining.
Keep your engines primed
In addition to a vast array of shops to explore I found a wide range of delicious food to sample. Keeping with Texas flavors there were numerous BBQ offerings . Smoked turkey legs, savory street tacos, kettle corn, sweet pastries, and corn dogs were just some of the tempting selections. Ice cold water, fresh squeezed lemonade, sweet tea, and of course, shaved ice was readily available to help stave off dehydration.
When to go
The market is open year round, but because of the sizzling Texas summers and unpredictable winter weather, spring and fall are the most pleasant times of the year. The market is open the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before the first Monday of each month, except some holiday weekends. Make sure you verify the dates on their website before you go because times do change.
Thursday – 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday – 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Saturday – 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sunday – 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
How to get there
Canton is conveniently located off I-20 about 60 miles east of Dallas. Just take exits 523 (Hwy 64) or 526 (FM 859) off I-20 and go south about a mile to the First Monday grounds. You can also easily reach Canton on Highways 19, 198 and 243. Field parking is available for $5 per day. There is also a free trolley available for a quick trip to the gate or back to your car. It is quite a large field.
Flea Market Tips
· If you see it and love it, buy it. Don’t take the chance on it being there when you return because someone else may love it too.
· Bargain with the vendors. Even in the more established sections, you can never tell who will say yes.
· Take a magnifier and small magnet. They will come in handy for examining the condition and identifying “brass” or “bronze” that is steel.
· Wear comfortable shoes all the time and clothing appropriate for the season. Almost year ’round—wear sunscreen.
· Most of all, if you do not know about an expensive collectible, be wary. Fakes and overpricing exist but knowing something about the item can prevent a bad purchase.