Biannual Evanston flea market draws young, old to Robert Crown Center

Rachel Janik

At Evanston’s biannual flea market Saturday, 75-year-old Ashley Kennedy fiddled with a metal contraption that resembled a pair of pliers crowned with a coil of what looked like metallic Bubble Tape. The device was a 100-foot tape measure that predates World War II, the Evanston resident said.

Kennedy, a tool collector, sold his goods at one of 75 tables in the Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St. His antique hardware collection sat among fold-out tables touting items as varied as AVON cosmetics, vintage jewelry, used clothing and even an entire set of limited edition Elvis Beanie Babies.

Nanci Fragassi, operations manager at the Crown Center, said the center has run a flea market in November for at least 30 years. This is only the third year the center has held another market in the spring.

“There is always a waiting list for tables – I could’ve sold 150,” Fragassi said.

She estimated anywhere from hundreds to thousands of shoppers usually attend the biannual flea markets in Evanston. Saturday’s event lasted seven hours, running from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“This won’t let up till about five minutes to 4,” Fragassi said, gesturing to the throng of people browsing at the center at around noon.

Kennedy has rented a table at the market for close to 10 years, he said. Frank Tolford, his friend of nearly 45 years, manned the adjacent table, selling tools and his antique toy car collection. Tolford, 80, said he has sold these same goods at the Evanston flea market for about 20 years.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff that I no longer need for one reason or another, and I can make a little money on it.”

Tolford said he and Kennedy frequent garage sales and thrift stores looking for items to add to their collections. If the two men think a particular item will sell, they’ll buy it and clean it so it is worth more.

“It’s kind of a self-sustaining hobby,” Tolford said.

But others attend the flea market for necessity more than amusement. William Royster, a 24-year-old student at Loyola University Chicago, tended a table with his family attempting to sell a late relative’s estate. Their massive table held everything from old baseball caps to a full flatware set.

Across from a full Tae Bo workout VHS collection, Dustinn and Valery Jackson sold baby clothes and toys for 25 cents.

Dustinn Jackson is a graduate student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and will receive his degree in June. He accepted a job in Seoul, South Korea, and was joined by his wife and two young children Saturday as he tried to sell items they would not need abroad.

“This is our last ditch effort,” Valery Jackson said. “Our plan is to only take with us what we can pack in suitcases.”

Back at his own table, Kennedy tried to explain to a shopper why his tools are cheaper and higher quality than those available at local hardware stores.

“More than anything, I enjoy talking to the people,” he said afterward. “It’s getting to the point where I see the same faces every year.”

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