The Towanda 4th of July Flea Market and How it Grew Written by Alice Temple for the 25th Annual Towanda 4th of July Celebration. June 15, 1981 It was the last meeting for the Fourth of July Committee in 1969 and Towandas Mayor, Murray Livingston, was reviewing the entertainment they hoped to have for those attending the celebration. All entertainment reports were negative � the pony rides would not be there, they couldnt get the ,,dunking tank, etc. etc. Finally Alice Temple said, "Why dont we have a flea market?" The mayor ignored this suggestion (we wondered if he knew what a flea market was) and continued discussing other possible entertainment. Finally, in desperation he said, "Alice, run that flea market by me again." There for want of anything better, the committee authorized Alice to organize a flea market for the 1969 4th of July celebration in Towanda. Mayor Livingston, Wayne Young, Alice Temple, and Dorothy Jones met and planned the flea market. That first flea market was indeed sad. Only a week remained to advertise. A lady from Eureka came to ,,set up and she, with two Towanda people, provided the three tables at the first flea market in Towanda. Nonetheless, the townspeople seemed to enjoy it � not so much from a buying standpoint but rather with the idea of seeing what was there that was ,,just like something Grandma threw away. The initial thrust of the Towanda Flea Market was to provide something enjoyable for the ,,natives to do, rather than to make money from dealer fees. After three or four ,,lean years the Towanda Flea Market really ,,took off. Alice Temple and Dorothy Jones co-chaired the flea market committee for eleven years and they left no stone unturned in their advertising campaign on a shoe-string budget. John and Judy Morris were very supportive of the flea market in the early years when he was general chairman of the July 4th Committee. Mary and Lyle Merritt have chaired the flea market committee for the past two years and have held the 100+ dealers and thousands of buyers who come each year to this flea market. One of the highlights of those growing years was a visit from Tribune reporter, Mary Daniels. There was a full page write-up in the July 2, 1971 Tribune on antiquing in Central Illinois and it told of the July 4th Flea Markets in Towanda and Chenoa. The Chenoa Jaycees, and more recently the VFW Post, have always had a July 4th Flea Market and the two, Towandas and Chenoas, seem to complement each other. No good antiquer would go to one and not the other when they are so close. Another boost came when our flea market was listed in "Whats Going On in Illinois" It has also been listed in the Tribune calendar of things to do on the 4th of July for several years.
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Certainly the weather has a vital impact on flea markets � thus far the Towanda Flea Market has not been rained out. 1973 was a near-rain-out as it started raining in the night and continued until about 10:00 a.m. when the sun came, as did the dealers, and it proved to be another "big day". In 1970 it was frigidly cold. Dealers sat wrapped in blankets, rugs or whatever they could find to keep from freezing. Needless to say there were few customers. Linda, selling Depression glass, made one sale for her entire days work that year. 1977 was a beastly hot flea market � it didnt cut down on the crowd � and they bought like it would be the last flea market � and many dealers felt like it would be their last one. The Towanda July 4th celebration has grown along with the flea market until it represents more of a "Homecoming Celebration" and the natives who want to see everyone plan to return and do their visiting on this day. Providing food, cold drinks, snow cones and popcorn to the thousands of shoppers passing through fills the coffers of Towandas 4-H clubs and civic and church groups from year to year. This years concession proceeds will go into a ,,Van Fund to purchase a van with a lift for the use of Kent Redding, who is fighting Multiples Sclerosis. A Van Fund Account has been established at the Corn Belt Bank for donations and Towanda is going "all out" to support this fund with the sale of pure maple syrup and other items. All proceeds are going to the Fund. 1981 will be Towandas 13th flea market. The price for dealer space has increased from $5 to $8 over the years. Dealers have always said the Towanda Flea Market was the top selling day of the summer. One dealer who has ,,set up at 11 of the past 12 flea markets said that dollar-wise the biggest flea market day of his life occurred in Towanda. Probably the largest ,,dealer crowd was 116 dealers. Perhaps there will be more this year as the crowd spill over from North Park to South Park. Over the years dealers have attended from St. Louis, Michigan, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and the Chicago area. What made for the success of this flea market? Probably as much as anything is that July 4th is an easy date to remember from year to year. Also, admission is free to all buyers and lookers � only charge is to dealers to set up. Towanda is quite accessible on I-55, and centrally located in downstate Illinois surrounded by Pontiac, Peoria, Decatur and Champaign as well as the many smaller towns and Bloomington-Normal from which to draw. Those of us who saw it grow from a nothing to a giant are all believers in advertising � all media were tapped to get coverage all over central Illinois, and on a very limited advertising budget. We could not name all the people who have a hand in the success of our flea market � painting signs, handing out fliers, making announcements, getting the park ready and cleaning it up afterwards. It took the help and cooperation of lots of people. It is a friendly flea market in a small town park. On a nice day in July what could be more fun. WELL SEE YOU THERE!
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
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