Rusty, dusty delights: Treasures abound at The Junk Ranch

Rusty, dusty delights: Treasures abound at The Junk Ranch
LARA JO HIGHTOWER
lhightower@nwadg.com

When Amy Daniels and Julie Speed first started The Junk Ranch eight years ago, they couldn’t have known that it would grow into the event that it is today. The largest open-air flea market in the Northwest Arkansas area, the twice-a-year vintage shopping bonanza now attracts thousands of collectors from across the country and boosts the economy of Prairie Grove through food, gas and lodging sales during the two-day event. More than 100 vendors spread out on the acreage of a vintage — how appropriate! —ranch off of Centerpoint Road.

Prairie Grove’s Junk Ranch has been named one of Flea Market Magazine’s “Readers’ Favorite Outdoor Small Fleas and Vintage Shows” as well as a “Vintage Show Crush” by the same national publication. More than 100 vendors set up on the expansive grounds of the ranch on Centerpoint Road near Prairie Grove. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower)

But The Junk Ranch started off as something much more modest: Held on the small grounds of the Viney Grove Community Building on the outskirts of Prairie Grove, 30 vendors took a chance on a new show. The Farm Fresh Vintage Market, as the first show was called, was inspired by Daniels’ love of huge flea markets like Canton and Round Top in Texas. As a longtime member of the vintage flea market community in the area, Daniels didn’t think people needed to drive that far to find great junk — so she started one closer to home. Her friend Julie Speed showed up shortly after the flea market opened and jumped in to help park cars that were overwhelming the small parking area and lining up in the road. The duo realized within an hour of opening that they had a hit on their hands.

Eight years later, says Daniels, she still gets a thrill when the ranch grounds start filling up with rusty, dusty junk.

“We are always excited to see our vendor family,” says Daniels. “The sense of pride, rush of adrenaline and feeling of accomplishment when vendors start rolling in, it never gets old.”

The duo looked at spots all over Northwest Arkansas for a permanent location for the show, but they were determined to stay in Prairie Grove. Making a contribution to the town where both have lived and have family is important to them.

“We also know that the impact to our community is significant by the positive feedback we receive from downtown merchants, the amount of pop-ups we see around town and how the carhops at our local Sonic wear Junk Ranch tees during the show,” says Daniels. “It’s a magical time, and we love sharing it with so many like-minded folks.”

While Daniels and Speed made the hard decision to cancel the spring show last year due to covid-19 concerns, they opened back up for the fall show with safety precautions in place. The response was overwhelming — from both the shoppers, who showed up in droves, and the vendors, who had spent a long six months at home, with flea market venues sparse due to the pandemic.

“Last year, we bought a trailer and decided ‘Yeah, we’re going to start doing shows,’ and that’s when covid-19 happened,” says vendor Jessica Doing of the Cowlick Dry House. She says the fall Junk Ranch show was the first one she sold at since the start of the pandemic, and, she says, it was a good way to jump back into the game.

“Probably the 8,000 people that came,” she says, laughing, when asked what made it successful for her. “It was crazy. It was exciting.”

Doing is from Missouri, but, in addition to plenty of local vendors, Daniels says she has vendors coming from even farther away.

Thousands of shoppers from around the country will stream into Prairie Grove Friday and Saturday to shop at Northwest Arkansas’ largest open air flea market. Junk Ranch founders Amy Daniels and Julie Speed say they choose vendors with an eye toward providing the most high quality, varied shopping experience possible. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower)

“We hand-pick vendors that represent the goods we like to see when out picking, and then we just give them the space to do what they do,” explains Daniels of the process of lining up vendors for a show. “[Doris of] High Cotton & Co. will be traveling to the show from Tennessee. She has been in the business for years and participates in large venues like Round Top and the Country Living Fairs. She’ll fill four outside booths at The Junk Ranch, and she specializes in primitives and quality antique smalls. Brittany Harris will be joining us from Illinois. Brittany’s mom is a longtime local vendor, and the show gives them an opportunity to spend some fun time together. She’s in the process of helping clear a 10,000-square-foot home in the Chicago area, and many of those pieces will be at the show. You can expect to see five packed booths with antiques from estate clean-outs and auctions.”

Stephanie Vanderslice is a professor at the University of Central Arkansas and routinely drives up from Conway to attend the event. She calls The Junk Ranch “a happy gathering of vintage lovers and vendors.” An avid collector, she says she likes to be surprised by what she finds but is also on the hunt for additions to her collections: models of Ferris wheels and vintage school-themed items.

“Since Junk Ranch first started, a lot of other [similar] events have cropped up in Arkansas, such as Vintage Days and Bella Rustina,” says Vanderslice. “I appreciate them. But The Junk Ranch is the original and a much bigger event with more camaraderie and more variety in what is offered. Also, the prices are pretty good! I have been fortunate to have been to the Country Living Fair a couple of times, once in Atlanta and once in Nashville, and Junk Ranch is by far the closest in style and range to that fair within driving distance. Also, in the last several years I’ve been able to meet up with good friends there, so that makes it even better.”

Shopper Keri Foster has been attending The Junk Ranch with two of her closest friends since 2015. The Mountain View trio makes a “girls’ weekend” of the event, and, several years ago, even signed up to work at the gate.

“The thing that keeps us going back is that you just never know what you’re going to find,” she says. “And, every year, there are new trends. One year, it may be industrial stuff that’s just off the charts. The next time, it may be more rusty stuff, like chicken coop feeders and galvanized things. And there are some vendors there that you can just go through their booth forever and never see it all. There’s such a great mix of vendors.”

“The vendors are definitely the heart of the show but those shoppers are pretty special too,” says Daniels. “This year, we’ve had a California shopper comment that they scheduled a family visit to coincide with our event. It’s surreal to know that people come from multiple states to visit The Junk Ranch and the small town of Prairie Grove.”

In addition to shopping, visitors to the event can expect to hear live music and have a wide selection of food and drink to choose from provided by food trucks. Pets are welcome, and many families make a day of it, pulling youngsters behind them in wagons, nestled in beside the treasures discovered.

“Make sure you wear your sunscreen, a sunhat and your walking shoes,” advises veteran shopper Vanderslice. “And stay hydrated.”


FAQ

The Junk Ranch

WHAT — Northwest Arkansas’ largest open air flea market

WHEN — 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE — 11195 Centerpoint Church Road near Prairie Grove

COST — $10/Friday (includes two-day admission); $5/Saturday

INFO — thejunkranch.net

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