By Polly Keary, Editor
It’s only the second week of the annual Monroe Swap Meet season, and inside the open doors of the three long barns in which the weekend flea market is held at the Evergreen Fairgrounds, it’s chilly.
It’s also a little slow, with straggling shoppers desultorily flipping through racks of secondhand clothes, sorting through antique hand tools, or peering over crowded tables to examine mismatched tea cups, a kitchy Hello Kitty lamp, or a startlingly large stuffed rattlesnake.
And as it’s early in the season yet, there are a few empty booths here and there, as well.
But the vendors, who in the 16 years the market has run, have formed a tight-knit community, are glad to be there at all. Last month, flea market organizer Renato Lubrin died, and rumors circulated social media that the market would not continue.
So relief was widespread when Lubrin’s widow and longtime business partner Vickie Lubrin decided to continue the swap meet in his honor, and the annual market opened on schedule this month, to remain open in the three easternmost barns at the fairgrounds Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. until June.
For Kathy Iverson, running a market stall at the swap meet brings her more than a community of friends and some extra income. For her and her family, it’s a way of life.
“My husband retired back about eight years ago,” said the affable woman, whose heavily-tattooed son stood behind the counter laden with Halloween knick knacks, tools, dolls and kitchenware, among other things. “He’s always done collecting and antiques, so he thought as a hobby he’d get into this.”
It soon turned into more than a hobby. It became a family business. The couple’s son got involved, and for years they rented several spaces at the market, occupying nearly the entire end of one building.
“He liked it so much, he started a store,” said Iverson of her husband.
A year-and-a-half ago, the family opened a store in the Safeway shopping center in Monroe. Now treasure hunting has become a full-time job. They comb estate sales, auctions, other flea markets, eBay and garage sales from Tacoma to Bellingham.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “I don’t think people know how much work it is.”
It’s not terribly lucrative work, said one man who has been running a booth selling collectibles for about six years.
“It’s something to do for an old guy,” he said. “You cannot make a living. If you do, you are a better man than I ever was.”
The Iversons do alright; in their heyday at the market before moving most of their business to the store, they might rent $100 worth of space and make $600-$700 on a good Saturday. Booths cost about $40 to rent per day, so it doesn’t take a lot of business to break even, but for most vendors, it’s a hobby.
One retired man got into it after a heart bypass surgery truncated a construction career, he said. Bundled into a heavy coat and perched on a stool, he seemed more stoic than anything else, until asked about a motor on one of his tables.
He lit up, and his love for tools and antique mechanical objects became obvious.
“I love old tools,” he said, allowing that he is a regular at the nearby Western Heritage Museum and has in fact contributed a number of items to their collection of antique tools.
One of main attractions of the market is the friendships made, vendors agreed. They certainly have a lot of opportunity to get to know each other; most set up in October and remain set up until June.
“It’s a social event,” said Cynthia Sheppard of Bothell, whose shop includes a lot of secondhand movies and music, as well as ski gear, children’s clothes and luggage, and Kathy Iverson mentioned that her husband and one of the other vendors go back 40 years.
Every once in a while, there is a jackpot, too, said Iverson.
Although she said the lives of real collectors and antiques dealers is nothing like that depicted on the popular show “Storage Wars,” her husband did once strike it very lucky.
He’d gone to a garage sale and his foot struck something under a table. Upon inspection, it turned out to be an old sword. It didn’t look like much, but he thought he might be able to turn into a gift for a grandson, so he bought it for a dollar.
Then, while watching the antiques show “Antiques Roadshow,” he saw a similar sword fetch a tidy sum, and decided to put his sword on eBay with a starting price of $19.99. After having it authenticated for an East Coast collector, he learned it was a real Civil War sword.
“He got $3,535 for it,” said Iverson.
Most of the people wandering the barns Sunday weren’t looking for treasure as much as a cool vintage shirt or a funky decorator object.
“I think you have to be the kind of person who likes used things, has an interest in recycling, or finding something different, something you had in your childhood,” said Sheppard. “And people want bargains, of course.”
Vickie Lubrin, still emotionally strained in the wake of her husband’s recent death, politely declined an interview Saturday, as she and her daughter, a college student just days from graduation, manned her Avon booth.
But the other vendors at the market said that they are glad she is continuing the tradition that Renato Lubrin established.
“This was his passion,” said Iverson. “Her and her two daughters have decided to continue. We’ve known them a long time. They are super nice. Everyone here is super nice.”