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Laraway Flea Market Gives Life to 2nd-hand Goods; Vendors Sell Homemade Crafts

Laraway Flea Market is seen as a ripe vineyard for retired seniors and laid-off workers turned entrepreneurs.

A retired emergency room nurse at Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, New Lenox's 62-year-old Cindy Markunas considers The Laraway Flea Market in New Lenox Township as an opportunity to profit from a life-long hobby.

"I've always loved to do this, even when I was young. I love finding things. I love being a picker," she said.

Opened since June, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends-only, The Laraway Flea Market, 2467 E. Laraway Road, is a great way for Markunas to immerse herself in the spirit of the "American Pickers," a popular PBS television show. From her own 10-by-15-foot booth within the massive 20,000-square-foot warehouse, her inventory consists of items made affordable for those on a tight budget. "I sell movies, books, gifts, small collectibles, beach toys, children's clothes." It changes with the seasons, she said. Right now she's marketing Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day goods, and in the summer, it's inflatable rafts, outside games and picnic baskets.

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When she's not manning the booth, Markunas is babysitting for her grandchildren and eyeing garage and estate sales for potential booth stock. At home, a spare bedroom with industrial shelving serves as a temporary storage place.

Regular increases in the cost of living stirred Markunas to step out as an entrepreneur. "It helps with extra money," she said. And it's a chance to finally cut herself loose from a home stash of goods that she admits she'll never personally use.

"I've been a packrat all my life." A sly smile crept across her face, when she said, "I decided it was time to release some of these things from bondage."      

The Laraway Flea Market Helps Make Ends Meet

For a laid-off fabrication inspector, Hank Klepczarek, 59, of Mokena, the flea market means hope. Out of a job since December 2011 after a chronic foot problem left him unstable in tight places, he's been making steps to fill the financial gap. The father of three, he picked up on the garage sale-type business and gave it a name; he calls his booth, Hand Me Down Hanks. It features the likes of tools, books, small light fixtures, solar lamps and aquariums.  

"I sell a little bit of everything," he said, but mostly he focuses on household items. An old door found at a garage sale becomes a repurposed shelving unit when it's stripped and re-varnished. With a bit of tender, love and care, a discarded shelving unit becomes a nice curio cabinet.

"I don't bring the big furniture here," he said. That's sold out of his garage at home. His wife, Vida, posts items on Craigslist. If they're interested, they'll make an appointment to check it out.    

Manning the booth for only a few months, Klepczarek said he hasn't made much money yet. "I was $6 short on the mortgage this month. In other words, we're under. Our house is worth less than our mortgage."

Eileen Howorth, 49, of Tinley Park, is in the same boat. "I lost my job in September (2012). It's a struggle keeping the lights on." Still she's optimistic that her new-found talent in soap making will eventually refresh her financial picture. Individual bars cost $6 and packages of fun-shaped soaps for the kids sell for about the same.

"I really like making soap. I want it to be healthy. It's got Vitamin E, goats' milk; and I don't use animal fats. It's all vegan accept for the goats milk, and that doesn't go in all of it," she said. Her best seller is the oatmeal, milk and honey bar.

"I've taken a lot of time to learn about soap making" and the ingredients to make it pure. Howorth adds a touch of glycerin and brown oxide along with a bit of pumice for a nice scrub soap for men. For women, the Brazilian Sea Salt bar is particularly appealing.

The Birth of The Laraway Flea Market

Chris and Jim Morrison, of Tinely Park, opened Laraway Flea Market in earnest in June. As the retired owners of the Ethan Allen Furniture Store in Orland Park, which has since been sold to Ethan Allen corporate, the two were left with a warehouse they'd purchased years ago.  

Invigorated by the popularity of recycling, the couple decided to act on the momentum. They landed on the idea of a flea market, thinking it would be the perfect re-use of the facility. About 50 vendors, each of whom pays $40 a weekend to sell at the flea market, have joined up. "They're allowed to leave their stuff here all week," said Chris Morrison. In the summer, she's set her sights on utilizing the surrounding property for outside booths too.   

Given time, Markunas said she believes the Laraway Flea Market will catch on. "It's nice because it's inside."

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M M R January 06, 2013 at 04:12 PM
That's the problem, the people leasing the building won't advertise and technically the building is up for sale or lease to anyone interested so this flea market can end at any time. $40 is VERY steep, Derald's in Joliet charges less and the one in Kankakee is only $20 a weekend. But I guess when you have a $10k plus monthly lease payment to make, you have to charge the vendors that amount to cover your butt. Upon my last visit there I noticed that half the vendors left within a two week period and some of the other ones moved into their spaces but it's SO empty in there. The lights shut off at one point and then the vendor grovelling began. I don't see this place making it.
Aja January 06, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Hi! I start this coming weekend. I make 100% vegan and vegetarian beauty products~Simple Beauty Naturals. I believe E Howorth recommended me. We vended together at a Northside school a few weeks ago. Maybe vendors can get discounts for bringing in other vendors. ~Aja
WarriorMom January 07, 2013 at 12:58 AM
The key is getting the word out - I greatly appreciate the Patch coming out an taking the time to list the story in several Patch areas. Every week I meet new visitors and new vendors - I say stick it out ! Be Positive and keep sharing flyers and business cards!!! I believe this market can be a good one and current sellers are awesome, down to earth and offer fair pricing! - I hear you "MMR" but the vendors that are still there are working hard to bring things together. If you have moved on I with you all the best. But people who shop the markets can shop at more than 1 place - you never know what you will find at any market you go to because things are always changing thats kind of the beauty (so to speak) of Flea Markets right? Peace everyon! Hope the community will start to start the business - there are many treasures, everyday use items and specialty items at Laraway Road and others. For some its a way of life and for others its a way to live God Bless - IF you see this article and stop at my booth for soaps - for everyone $25 spent I will give a free bar of soap or recommend two others who buy 3 or more bars and get a free bar of soap. Happy Shopping!!!!!!
Cheryl Walker January 18, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Article says they owned the building? Rent is 50 cents/sq ft per month (ouch). For a pole barn. Getting a buck a sq-foot/mo for the fleamarket space. BE is half capacity. gulp. I stopped in there once when it sold furniture. Could not find anything reasonable. Depressing space IMHO.
Peaches February 10, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Just see Ray! Tell em peaches sent ya .LoL

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