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Treasure Hunting at Edmonton’s Super Flea Market

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As the automatic glass doors to Super Flea Market slide open, I’m hit with a blast of warm, sugary air. At a booth just across from the entrance, mini donuts lazily sizzle down a river of hot oil. Their crackling rises over the drone of Sunday morning bargain hunters haggling over fruits and vegetables under florescent lights. It isn’t easy to resist the fingers of steam beckoning me over like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but treats can wait: I’m here to see Terry. I cut left, bypassing the pastry booth. As I rush past a table piled with Harlequin romance novels, the dreamy donut cloud gives way to the odors of dust, must and spores of mould liberated, along with the junk they once clung to, from the damp basements of Edmonton, Alberta.

Operating weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Super Flea is both the oldest and largest flea market in town, its hundreds of booths tucked into every available corner of the former supermarket building. The market is the antithesis of Edmonton’s biggest claim to fame, West Edmonton Mall, the biggest shopping centre in North America. Where the mall has glitzy, glossy retail shops and services, Super Flea has heart and soul. It’s a true reflection of the city’s working-class population: no-nonsense and a little bit nuts. Kind of like Terry, I realize as I push past some teenagers crowding around a bong display. During the week, he works as a mechanic, but I heard he’s crazy about bungee jumping.

Secondhand shopping

On Saturdays and Sundays, Super Flea is a buzzing hive of activity, distinguishable from the other buildings in this industrial district northwest of the downtown core by a bright yellow banner strung across its low, wide front. The banner has been there as long as I can remember, luring in passers-by with promises of 50-cent hot dogs and coffee that have somehow avoided inflation all these years.

But cheap beef on a bun has never been what’s drawn me to Super Flea. Rounding a corner, I glance into a pink-walled booth-cum-salon, where a 10-year-old boy in a plastic gown sits red-faced in the barber’s chair. A pile of brown locks recently liberated from his head litters the concrete floor below. Judging by the look on his face, he’d rather be anywhere than here, but his mother is beaming. Just a few steps away at a natural healing booth, an old man lies on a table with a flaming candle sticking out of one ear. A few spectators gawk, but he closes his eyes and surrenders to the treatment.

Meandering through Edmonton’s best flea market

I take a quick detour to stock up on incense – Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, peddled by an ageing hippie – before making a beeline to my personal weekend mecca: Terry’s record booth. It’s in the centre of the action, just around the corner from the stooped woman who once sold me a lime-green leather belt covered in silver jingly metal. But I’m a bit late: several familiar faces are already clustered around the alternative rock section. They’re friends in life, but rivals in this business of record collecting. Even as I greet them, my eyes are scanning the choice albums hanging from the white pegboard walls above the record bins.

Terry has been my go-to record guy for over a decade and remains the best-kept secret of audiophiles in this city. He’s one of a disappearing breed: an honest, trustworthy record dealer who runs his business with pride and integrity. Terry has an encyclopedic knowledge of 1970s rock, an unforgiving eye for condition and he looks way younger without the ratty mustache he finally shaved off last year. His record booth has tripled in size since I bought my first Velvet Underground LP here, creeping out past the confines of the original 12’ x 8’ booth to conquer both the spot adjacent and the space sitting kitty-corner to it. The man himself, along with indulgent wife Sharene, operates from a group of tables just across the way, conducting business over a glass display case filled with elaborate CD box sets.

Flea market shopping in Edmonton

My friends show off their treasures and I can breathe again: have it, have it, don’t really care about it. I flip through the meticulously alphabetized rock sections marked D and K, respectively. No Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich today but I pull out a mint copy of Kinda Kinks and can’t in good conscience leave it behind. It’s no Village Green Preservation Society, the album that currently tops my want list, but it’ll do for now. Terry comes out from behind the counter and pulls a few plastic bags filled with rarities out from beneath the record bins. Most record dealers hide their gems; it’s one of the advantages to being a regular.

Satisfied with my finds, I hand Sharene $20 over the gleaming display case. Terry spies another regular customer and zooms over, long sandy hair bouncing, eager to show off some just-in Depeche Mode singles. Sharene’s eyes smile through her thick glasses as she hands over my purchase.

There’s no need to rush through the jumble of booths on the western end of the building. Records in hand, I take my time and people-watch on my way out. Near the exit, airy wisps of deep-fried sweetness reach out to grab me once more. When I finally step outside and fill my lungs with clean, mildew-free air, it’s with one final treasure: a glassine pouch overflowing with hot, aromatic mini donuts dusted liberally with powdered sugar.

 

GETTING THERE

Super Flea Market is located at 12011 111 Ave, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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