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'Traders Village,' A Texas-Size Flea Market - 2002-07-07


Shopping, especially looking for bargains, is one of America's favorite pastimes. Flea markets, garage sales and farmers markets are popular weekend destinations across the country. 'Traders Village' in Grand Prairie, Texas, half way between Dallas and Fort Worth, combines all of these in one huge marketplace.

In Traders Village, you can buy anything from a zipper to a bulldozer. Trading spaces range from plain marked squares on the pavement to stalls, to fully enclosed air-conditioned booths. Let's visit one of these booths.

Shoe dealer Therlee Gipson is discussing local politics in his booth. "I love it here. I am retired. I worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years and this is a part-time weekend thing," Mr. Gipson said. "It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays and I like it here, I have friends out here I've known for a long time. Oh, I have a lot of fun."

Mr. Gipson says when he is not discussing politics, he sells Indian moccasins, sports shoes and work boots. "I've been here, round about I'd say 27 years ever since it opened. When I first started, I started (selling) plastic (goods) and beer mugs and goblets and stuff like that, but I grew into shoes."

Therlee Gipson says he started trading at the flea market to make supplemental income. Now he says he does it mainly for fun.

In another booth, Obie Cue sells spices, ranging from the hottest, such as Gatorbreath and Yankeeblaster, to the mild, such as Smooth Moove and Sweet Rub. Texas Soul Chili is one of his most popular products. "That is the one thing I make that's actually adapted from a recipe I was taught," Mr. Cue says. "That recipe has been in a friend of mine's family for over a hundred years."

Obie Cue says he learned to cook while he was a student. He began to experiment with spices to make his simple meals more exciting. Over the years he has developed a number of spice mixtures, especially those used to season meat, the so-called barbecue rubs. He is also a champion barbecue cook. "The biggest rub contest in the world is held in Kansas City, Missouri every year," he says. "I am the only three-time winner in the history of the event."

Obie Cue sells his spices worldwide over the internet but he says he loves to demonstrate them to customers. He has been doing that in Traders Village for 18 years.

Joseph Salazar sells fresh produce. He is another regular dealer at the market. "If I missed three weekends in 25 years, that's too much," he said. Mr. Salazar says during the quarter of a century of trading here, he has built a regular clientele. "Oh there are some ladies that come over here with a couple of kids. They say 'my daddy used to bring me here when I was a little girl.' I say 'girls, stop that! That makes me feel too old, you know,'" he said. "Oh I have lots of repeat customers and I treat everybody equal, I treat everybody right, you know. This is what the customer wants, for you to treat him right, treat him with a smile and talk to them. You don't have this long horse face. You talk to them nice and they'll come back."

About 2,000 dealers come to this market in Grand Prairie, Texas on any given weekend, some regularly, others from time to time. Instead of selling used items in their yard or garage, people can rent a space in Traders Village for as little as $20 a day and expose them to thousands of bargain hunters.

Shopper One: "We buy everything, we buy spices, we buy seasonings, we buy shaving products, cleaning products, blankets, rugs.
Shopper Two:"Primarily, Obi-Cue's and whatever else I might need at the time: clothes, cologne, what have you."
Shopper One: "My girlfriend over there just bought a plant. So we find everything out here."
Shopper Two: "Yeah, I mean they've got some really good bargains here. So this is pretty much the place to go."
Shopper One: "There's so much stuff to see and do and buy out here."
Shopper Two: "Definitely."
Shopper One: "We come here about once a month.
Shopper Two: "Oh, about once every couple of months. Whenever I need something."
Shopper One: "It's a blast. It's lot of fun."

Traders Village attracts close to three-million visitors a year. Allan Hughes, director of general services for the market, says fewer than six percent of them are from Grand Prairie. "We have a core market of about a 50 mile radius from us but we literally have people from all over the world," he said.

Mr. Hughes says when it opened in 1973, the market was an isolated place in the middle of cotton fields. Today, the area is a fully developed suburb and the market is connected to major highways.

In addition to shopping thrills, Traders Village offers special events, such as an American Indian Pow-Wow, a Chili cook-off and a Bar-B-Que cooking contest. Amenities in the 43-hectare area include picnic tables, restrooms, playgrounds, a recreation park and camp, a swimming pool and even a chapel. Traders Village has become one of the greatest attractions of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

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