Where were we? Oh yes, we were driving up the New Jersey Turnpike after the Monster Mania convention and decided to make a little detour…
With the record breaking cold temperatures here in New Jersey, reminiscing on one of our warm weather adventures is comforting. We saved the best for last and did our exterior inspection first. The outdoor portion of the Columbus Flea Market is an endless sea of vendor tables. I may be off by one or two, but there must have been 75,000 vendor tables selling everything from knockoff colognes featuring scents like Sweaty Taint and Phys-ed Funk to multicolored belts, statues, and cheap sunglasses. Naturally, we made it our f’n mission to literally walk through every single aisle as if the tables were the hedge maze and we were The Torrances.
Let’s see how much more I can elaborate on the junk at the outdoor tables. We’re talking cheap motorized toys, belts, gaudy sweaters, faux jewelry, generic brands of laundry detergent, and lots of other weird, totally random shit. And then the handbags. Jeezus, ladies and their handbags. If guys were girls they would have one handbag, but girls are girls and they have like 12 and they’re always looking for two more, one for that wedding they have to go to and the other because the ones they have just can’t fit everything. I think I just had a heat stroke. Man it was hot out there.
My body does not handle the sun and heat very well, so we made our way inside to see what treasures awaited us. As we passed through the entrance, Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” lightly trickled out of the ancient P.A system like a refreshing mist of cool rain.
“…Nothing ever lasts forever…”
The white tile floors, no longer shiny, coated with a decade of dust, forced my eyes to the storefronts that housed all kinds of bizarre bullshit. To the left, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the neglected vending machines, red, encasing charms that now easily exceed their quarter price due to their age. A dollar at least, by today’s eBay standards. Soda machines had the cooler, early ’90s logos. We were in a blissful wonderland, one of the biggest and oldest flea markets in the state and we were having a blast.
You always know the types of stuff that will set off your nerd alerts, but there are also things there that you’d never expect would excite you. For example, I never thought I’d pop so big for Rebecca’s Soft Pretzels, mostly because I barely ever eat pretzels, unless they’re from WaWa and filled with sweet cream, but their menu signage was so damn gigantic, hanging from the drop ceiling like a cumulonimbus cloud made of toasted almond sprinkles, it was hard not to be enticed. I didn’t wind up getting a pretzel, but for some reason Rebecca’s Pretzel’s stuck out in my head. Probably because it was nestled in an offshoot wing of the flea that might have been some sort of Amish haven, if I recall correctly. But, I might be pulling a Brian Williams here, so don’t hold me to that. #WhoopiePies
The reason I go anywhere is if there’s a possibility of seeing or buying old toys, records, or collectibles, because what else is there in life? We immediately zeroed in on one store in particular. I’m sorry Wicker emporium, tablecloth store, Bologna Kitchen, and bedazzled ladies leisure wear shop, you can all go screw.
As we continued exploring the shops, there was one store window that had plush toys and giant stuffed animals that looked as if they were manufactured sometime in 1993. If you’ve seen one knock off Lots-a-Lots-a-Leggggggs you’ve seen them all, but, coincidentally, it was another storefront where Jason Voorhees himself brought our Nikes to a screeching halt. “15% off marked toys,” read a homemade cardboard sign laying underneath Grover and Scooby. Yuuup! It was a collectible shop and we were heading inside in full force.
What did we do next? Dove right into this ginormous mess of CRAP, some call it treasure. In this case, it was like a collector’s neglected musty basement where stuff was thrown in every corner. There was absolutely zero organization and no logic to where items were tossed. Put it this way, if you were a contestant on Finders Keepers and had to find a baseball buried in this store, you’d be completely fucked.
It was impossible to process the magnitude of stuff that was stacked, scattered, hanging, and buried around this shop. Paint the picture in your mind of the following items in complete disarray: old magazines, records, statues, loose toys, playsets, sports memorabilia, autographs, mint in box and carded Star Wars and Wrestling toys, masks, ride-on toys, Cabbage Patch Kids, the list goes on and on. Really, none of it was in the best condition, but if there was one specific item that you were looking for, and they happened to have it, you’d be one happy camper.
This lack of organization was like anarchy. It can cause an unfathomable amount of anxiety to a collector. Seeing so many collectibles in such shambles agitated me a bit, but I also found some charm in all of it at the same time, since it created a stark contrast to one of those cold, museum-like stores with no personality. Here, it seemed more likely that there was something really amazing buried beneath the debris. Would we find it?
I kept gravitating toward a full wall-sized shelf that was packed with tons of random retro relics (how ya like me now?). The shelves were like the walls of the 53rd precinct and were literally bleeding junk out of each compartment. I needed a closer look.
OWNER: “You can’t go back there”
ME: “I’d like to look at something I want to buy.”
OWNER: “Nobody goes back there, you’ll knock everything over.”
This was a 12-15 foot span of wall shelving set behind another span of lower shelving chock full of stuff that the owner would not allow anyone to inspect. After his warning, a middle aged woman complained to me that she had the same issue with him and she didn’t understand why. Things couldn’t really get more messed up in there anyway. My eyes kept locking in on old Munsters and Gremlins stuff. Much of the stuff was still in its original, worn boxes.
Eventually, I pitched gaining access to the store owner again because there was one thing I wanted to look at further, I can’t remember what it was, but at the time it was screaming for my attention.
ME: “Can I please just go back there for a minute? I promise I won’t touch anything or knock anything over.”
Somehow, I must’ve assured him enough that I wouldn’t mess anything up and persuaded him to let me get in there. It was during all this that Matt was having a moment not too dissimilar to the time when Janosz locked eyes with Vigo, except picture Dino Drac and a 1979 12″ Kenner Alien figure. It was broken, of course. Even though the figure was loose, far from mint, and its leg was removed, the owner explained how Matt could fix it. The ludicrous price tag for such a fixer upper was so not worth it. It was so expensive that Matt wasn’t heartbroken when he had to part with it when we left. Now, if the Alien figure came with a homemade crutch and the broken leg had a cast on it with a fake Sigourney Weaver signature on it, I think Matt may have paid the guy double for it. Further down to the rear of the store you can see the $4,000 dollar Watto, he was out of both of our price ranges too.
Being in this store was both amazing and completely underwhelming at the same time. Then the mood became borderline sad. “The whole store is on sale for $50,000,” the store owner told me.
Smirking, I looked at Matt and we tried desperately to decipher if we both really just heard that. The price was a bit preposterous. He didn’t mean 50k for the actual deed to his space in the flea market, nope, just the garbage inside of it.
I decided to ask him the prices on a few things just to see if he was trying to scam customers. A vintage Cher doll was a “Hundred bucks.” She was loose, had messy hair, and didn’t have the original clothes. The high prices seemed to be a recurring theme in there. We didn’t buy anything.
I’m sorry to do this to you. Talk about an Empire Strikes Back ending.
A few months later, the poor old guy who ran the store died of a sudden heart attack at the flea market one day. I couldn’t help but think the guy may have been trying to raise money for his own medical bills, or pay some kind of debt, but who knows? Either way, without knowing the specifics and personal situation of the owner, the message I glean from this whole story is that you can literally become buried in your own stuff, and it can weigh you down and cause anxiety. So, why not open a shop and sell all your shit immediately for 50 grand?
Fast forward to November 2014. News broke that a large portion of the indoor part of the Columbus flea market burned to the ground, well at least the majority of the building did. I was shocked. What’s crazier is that I hadn’t heard about any of this until last week when a friend at work mentioned it. Most people I talk to knew about the fire, but not the owner of the store.
It’s been a few months since the fire, and we’re mere weeks away from the next Monster Mania, so there doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate time to reminisce. Looking back, not jumping right away to post a blog and pictures from this trip was probably for the best. It’s given me the chance now to look back on this place and the quirky memories of the day we spent there.
If you’re a collector or just like to go to weird junk places, they sort of all bleed together in your mind after being to so many of them, but this one definitely stands out, not for the bizarre toy den, but more for the PIZZA. Ahh, see, for a second you thought this post was booked to be the most grim in Sexy Armpit history, but, nope, I have other plans.
You’ve heard the old quote about how all pizza is good pizza, and even bad pizza is good because it’s still pizza, right? Unless we’re talking certain kinds of frozen pizza, that statement always rings true.
Inside the Columbus flea market we sat ourselves down at the stools of a large rectangular bar that served pizza. We were lured into Pete’s Pizza because it smelled amazing and the sign was glorious. Their mascot was like a cross between Little Caesar and Frenchy Martin. It was one of the best pizza places ever. Why? Well, a lot of it had to do with the lady behind the counter being so attentive to us, and of course, the pizza was delicious, but what cemented this honor was their choice of dinnerware. Our pizza was served on Happy 5th Birthday paper plates! This is the only thing that can help you forget about the death, disorder, and fiery madness that you’ve had to endure in this post. Happy 5th Birthday!