CLOVERDALE — Wanda Richards stands behind a table of her homemade knick knacks on Sunday in Cloverdale, as she’s done almost every week for the past 35 years.
“It’s been a long time,” she said with a smile.
For nearly as long as the Cloverdale Flea Market has been around, Wanda has shown up week after week to sell her birdhouses, feeders and other garden-related ornaments.
Made in Surrey, you can’t get them online, nor in stores.
“The log ones, they’re really popular,” said Richards, gesturing to hollowed out trunks transformed into would-be bird’s nests.
“Every one is a little different, you never get two that are the same. They’re all unique.”
Making them is no simple task.
“I cut them out on a bandsaw, hollow them out, cut the angles. You have to build something to hold it,” she explains. “You’re working with something round so it wants to pull your hands, so it’s dangerous to do these ones but I do it carefully.”
These are for the chickadees, finches and nuthatches, she tells me.
“Any of the smaller birds.”
But Richards has a variety of styles in her repertoire.
“I change it a little bit,” she said. “I get a lot of repeat customers. They’ll come for gifts for different occasions. So I sell the herb gardens for Mother’s Day, so different seasons I make different things. But March, April, May is nesting season so it’s a lot of the bird stuff.”
Building birdhouses is in her blood. Her brother started the tradition years ago and taught her the ropes.
Richards’ father had a hand in things as well, and she’s carried on his work in her garden ornaments. Lady bugs are the crowd favourite, she said.
“They’re made of concrete and they’re painted for outside so you can just leave them outside. You can bring them in but you don’t have to.”
Working at the flea market for more than three decades, Richards said she’s watched the change in the times.
“It was more like people clearing out their attics and garage back then,” she told me. “You see some of that now but you see more new products.”
There’s also a lot more food.
(Laura Cain, pictured, of Hill’s Bakery sells homemade scones, cakes and other goodies at the market.)
“There’s more of the baking and stuff now,” said Richards. “There’s usually a lady here (who) makes cookies and tarts and things. Sometimes there’s a lady here with pies.”
The local farms come out, so it’s a great place to get berries and other produce. There’s also local honey and flowers.
I picked up two hanging baskets for $10 a piece during my visit, and a large fuchsia orchid for just $10. My boyfriend’s jaw dropped when he saw the price – he’d recently paid $30 for one, for me.
Richards suspects it’s the variety – and, of course, the deals like we found – that keeps people coming back.
And so many do. Over the course of its nearly four decades of existence, more than five million people have passed through the gates hunting for deals.
“There’s not a lot of markets around anymore,” said Richards. “Other areas in the states the have lots of markets but up here you don’t see that many of them.”
Even tourists hear about it.
“This is such a big one, it’s been here so long, so it’s well known,” Richards said. “I see people from Texas and California. I had someone this morning from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia.”
Market manager Andy Janes, who was a vendor in the 1990s, took over the operation about five years ago. He has since brought in entertainment to make it a more family-friendly event.
During my visit, a man was playing guitar and serenading passersby with his rendition of Bryan Adams’ iconic hit, “Summer of ’69.”
Food trucks are another new element at the market, Janes said.
There’s room at the market for 300 vendors, who sell everything from electronics to household items to hand-made crafts like Richards’, as well as jewelry, clothing and collectibles.
Janes said he’s working to get back to the old days, when antiques were the main attraction.
“What was happening before was there was a lot of new goods,” he said about when he took the reins. “So we’re trying to bring back more antiques, collectibles.”
Part of his focus was also to work with law enforcement and border security to keep out stolen items and knock-offs.
“We wanted a clean slate,” Janes added.
While the market is a popular deal-hunting locale, it’s also a “great incubator for entrepreneurs,” Janes said, adding the flea market has a scholarship set up at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
“Some people come to the market and start their career…. They’ll hit the flea market to test the waters, so to speak.”
As for customers, Janes suspects the market is so popular it because it’s the “only game” in town.
“We’re not trying to be a night market, or a farmer’s market, we’re not trying to be anything else, and that’s what people recognize. I get people in their 40s saying, ‘I used to come when I was a kid,’” Janes said.
“And the interesting thing about the flea market is, it’s different every time.”
So whether you hit up the flea market next week, or a year from now, chances are you’ll find Richards manning her table because, as she puts it, “it just becomes part of your life.”
The Cloverdale Flea Market is in its 38th year and operates Sundays year round at the fairgrounds, at 176th Street and 62nd Ave., from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit cloverdalemarket.ca.
Now staff writer Amy Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.