Flea-Mart revives community

By Brandon Bridges

As traffic backs up onto Marketview Drive, onlookers can see that the commotion is coming from the old Menard’s building on Anthony Drive. But there is no longer a hardware store within: instead, the new Flea-Mart has breathed life into this abandoned building. This new attraction to the Champaign-Urbana area is a result of years of work and dedication by Flea-Mart’s owner, Jared Croslow.

Croslow has been an avid flea-market goer since he was a young child. Upon being released from service in the U.S. Navy two years ago, Croslow decided to settle in central Illinois.

“When I arrived into the area, one of the first things I noticed is that there were no real flea markets. I wanted to change that by bringing something new, something that raised the standard for flea markets,” Croslow said.

Croslow spent two years exploring buildings and different business opportunities to bring his vision into reality. By going to festivals, crafts shows and placing ads in newspapers, he was able to recruit vendors to fill the space he was to manage.

When asked why he chose Champaign in particular as a location to start his project, “I just thought Champaign was a really great place and could really benefit from this as a community,” Croslow said.

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Attracting new visitors into the area is one of the many benefits Croslow believes Flea-Mart will bring with its business.

“Champaign has a lot going for it, the town itself and the University, but there is nothing that really brings people from all over to the area. Flea-Mart will be a source of entertainment, and can help the community by allowing hundreds of local businesses to start up at a fraction of the normal cost in a high traffic retail area. Flea-Mart will serve both the community and its businesses,” Croslow said.

The types of vendors inside Flea-Mart are as varied as the merchandise they carry. With everything from custom-made afghans, to antiques and baseball cards, Flea-Mart has no shortage of collectibles to offer market-goers.

Rick Helmick of Mostly Oak Custom Woodwork said he builds each one of his pieces by hand. His post at the Flea-Mart is mainly a side-hobby, Helmick said.

“I hand build and finish each piece myself. It takes about four hours to complete one item,” he said. “Each vendor has a different story as to why they are here, some people do this as their business, others just do it as a hobby or a collection, for some it’s just a passion.”

Yvonne Cooper of Afghan Originals said her work is her passion.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I use my life and the community to inspire my work. This is my form of creative expression. I work to make sure each piece is truly an original,” Cooper said.

Cooper has crocheted since the age of nine. She has been using her talents to create housewarming gifts and birthday presents for family and friends for many years.

“Over the years, I have done something for every season, holiday and special occasion. I have given a lot away, but I finally decided to start selling my pieces so everyone could have an opportunity to have one,” Cooper said.

Cooper has afghans displaying the University logo and Chief prominently, as she said the University has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. She also has afghans exploding with kaleidoscopic patterns of color, which she says is inspired by Crystal Lake Park. Cooper says she uses classic patterns coupled with original designs and inspired themes to create each piece that she does.

Other vendors have collectible television and motion picture memorabilia, some have cultural keepsakes, while others have prints, paintings and even special clothing selections.

The Flea-Mart has something to offer everyone in the community, Croslow said.