After hearing about the Canton Flea Market for years, Marian and I decided to tackle the 5+ hour round-trip drive - and were we glad we did! If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip.
We left very early and took the Trace from Tupelo down to Canton, where we saw locals holding signs inviting people to park in their yards/driveways – for a fee, of course. We parked in the yard of a house Marian had admired since her childhood trips to Jackson – a beautiful old home. Then we joined the throngs walking toward downtown, where even larger throngs of people moved along the street and sidewalks.
There is a festive, the-fair’s-in-town attitude about the Flea Market. The lines of booths start several blocks before the town square, but booths also cover the square, surround the square, and line several blocks of another street off the square. There must be 1,000 vendors and the quality of the wares is impressive. The fall market is larger than the spring (we did the spring market in 2008, but since the write ups would be so similar, we’ll spare you that) and more festive – maybe because there's a Christmas spirit about the fall market.
Canton’s one of those towns that got left out of the traffic pattern when the Trace bypassed it. Someone smart is in charge though, because on one day (it’s always on a Thursday), the flea markets bring in $100,000.+ in vendor fees alone. Someone makes money off the portable potties, clean-up teams, etc., others by letting people park in their yards. Stores on the square see thousands of customers they wouldn’t otherwise see, and the two restaurants downtown (Davidson’s and Subway) probably do enough business during those two festivals to supplement the other 363 days. We have nothing but admiration for whoever came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a flea market in Canton.
Marian and I ate at Davidson’s and those people have mastered crowd control. They have also mastered shrimp gumbo and bread pudding – the best in the world. Seriously. Anyway, as we were eating, we tried to figure out how much they were making at an average of $10 a head. While we were there – and we didn’t stay long – over 100 people came through. And, that was at 10:30 am! They must make $2000+ an hour for at least 6 hours a day. Probably a lot more than that since the average bill is over $10. Amazing...but in a shocker, we’ve heard they are no longer serving on flea market days. Surely not – hope it’s a rumor!
After an incredibly enjoyable six hours or so, we headed home – tired and happy. We stopped at French Camp just to look around, and it turned into its own little adventure. We toured the old log cabin and store and then looked around town. There’s a pretty bed and breakfast/hotel hidden away behind the main street. We were just standing in front of the bakery trying to decide what to do next, when we saw this really old car coming up the road. It was a black Chevrolet, circa 1950, driven by a young mother. There were three or four kids standing up in the car eating Popsicles as they rode along. It was like looking back to the 50s, when we used to do stuff like that. Luckily for us, the woman pulled over and we got to look at the car up close. The driver said it was her father’s car, that he had had it for years, and had just gotten it out of the storage shed to see if it worked. It was completely original, including the back seat, which wasn’t fastened down, by the way.
We went to see the Christian boarding school at French Camp after that. I had always thought of it as an orphanage, and maybe it used to be, but it's not now. They were holding a reunion that weekend, and we bumped into a woman who had been raised at French Camp Academy who had come in for the festivities. She told us the students were all there for a reason – either they had no family, or (more likely) they had to be taken from their families for safety reasons. Sad either way. She also said that the school had saved her life, that it had educated her and put her on the path to a normal, happy life. It was a really touching story.
The campus isn't large, but it's pretty. There's a cafeteria and, for reasons neither Marian nor I really understand, we love cafeterias. So, off we went with the woman we'd met and she gave us the skinny on the school. All the kids have jobs; working is mandatory, as is doing well academically. They have all sorts of sports teams and a sizable stable as well. No cell phones allowed. No video games or, at least, very restricted use. They can run away, but there isn’t anyplace to go, so apparently most kids settle in and do well. The kids we saw, who were very clean-cut looking, seemed happy enough, and apparently the school has a good record of helping kids find their way, which is wonderful to hear.
Anyway, as it turned out, we enjoyed our little trek to French Camp almost as much as we enjoyed the Canton Flea Market.