After 23 years as a vendor and, later, as manager and co-owner, Bob Sands is retiring from the historic Rutledge Flea Market in Rutledge, Mo. — and he’s looking to sell the market as well. “I just don’t have a choice,” he says. “The doctor doesn’t even want me out there this year, but I’m here, and I’ll stay until we get it sold.” Sands says that his partners can’t take over either. “There’s all like me, and I’m 66 years old, so there’s no one else to run it. I’m sure having trouble with my lungs, and you can’t fix your lungs very well.”
The flea market started in 1948 as a gun and dog market with an auction component. Now it is one of the largest and longest running flea markets in Missouri. Held once each month from March through November, the swap meet attracts 500 to 600 vendors and 6,000 to 10,000 shoppers. There are 1,000 selling spaces on 60 acres of land, and vendors have the option of using camp sites with showers and modern bathhouses. A space rents for $35 a weekend, or $165 per year, with electricity extra. Auctions are still held on site weekly.
“It’s unique, out in the country and off the beaten path. Its been here so long, and so many people come out for it,” says Sands. He adds that a new vendor recently told him how surprised he was at the market: “He told me, ‘This is the friendliest place I’ve ever been. It’s not like that back in the city.’ It’s kind of a party out here. It’s always been that way.”
Sands’s son-in-law, Scott Wolf, is handling the real estate side of the market’s sale. Recently advertised on Craigslist, the Rutledge Flea Market is listed for $525,000. “I think it is worth more than that,” says Sands. “It’s a money maker, there’s no doubt about that. It’s not quite as strong as it was years ago, because the economy is not as strong as it was, but that’s what we think we can probably get.”
Photo credit, with thanks: Rutledge Flea Market.