Whitehorse’s thrift stores are gone, but the flea market lives on

A child skips past holding a naked doll, a bead braided into its hair. An older man with the sleeves of his polo shirt rolled up to his shoulders leafs through a box of records, setting aside a copy of Bach’s collected symphonies with a well-loved cover.

A child skips past holding a naked doll, a bead braided into its hair. An older man with the sleeves of his polo shirt rolled up to his shoulders leafs through a box of records, setting aside a copy of Bach’s collected symphonies with a well-loved cover. A young couple walks by holding a tray of freshly made donuts aloft, the sweet smell of warm powdered sugar drifting just above my nose. This is a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon at the May 6 flea market at Changing Gears, the first of many set to run this summer.

“What I like is that it’s really crowded,” said vendor Claire Strauss. “How often do Yukoners feel like they have to look out for each other when they’re walking?”

I’ve been out of territory for the last few months. When I drove back up from Montreal, everything I owned — one dog, a bag of clothes badly in need of patching, four pairs of socks (three of which had holes), an appropriately named poor-boy cap, a pair of rotting boots and half a bottle of Black Grouse blended scotch — fit in my Suzuki hatchback. As such, I found myself sorely in need of a few living essentials. I went to the flea market not for business or pleasure, but because my last pair of jeans were developing a hole in the crotch which was rapidly causing them to be unsuitable for work or polite company.

When I was a small child, my father, a consummate bargain hunter, would take me to a local flea market in Ontario. I don’t think it exists anymore, but I remember I used to love going. Not to buy things, but because there were always interesting people to meet and see and talk to. Flea markets are amazing cultural spaces.

Among the sellers was Ranin — a spry, bright-faced young girl who walked with a bounce in her step when she was called — and her mother. The pair are recent immigrants from Syria. Ranin’s mother didn’t speak English, but she smiled enthusiastically as Ranin translated for me. She was selling traditional Syrian pastries, baklava, date cookies and ‘sesame treats’ all carefully arranged on trays.

“My mother says she wants to do this because no one knows these treats,” Ranin said. “Syrian food is interesting and no one knows these.”

The sellers were not only people cleaning out their basements, but craftspeople like Kim Tucker of Zanti Kamala, a small local company which makes jewelry and bath products. We stood before her brightly coloured, intricate designs amid the spicy smell of her soaps while we chatted.

“I like coming out to meet people, to support the community,” she said.

The flea market itself is financially tied to the community, as it is, in part, a fundraiser for Humane Society Yukon. Instead of paying a rental fee for their table space, said Strauss, vendors donated a portion of their proceeds or gave the shelter something from their wares to sell at their own rummage sales. A donation jar was set up at the front of the tent so people could give money if they wished to.

Fun fact about me: I don’t buy new things if I can help it, especially clothes. It’s my personal philosophy that there’s just too much stuff already in the world to justify buying something brand-new when so many things wind up in the landfill. Given that Raven Recycling told the News last week that the biggest reason it decided to close its beloved free store was that the sheer volume of donated goods was simply too much for it to handle, there are obviously a lot of used things to go around.

“We were basically turning over the store every day,” said Joy Snyder, executive director of Raven Recycling. So many items were being donated, she said, that many of them were simply being sent to recycling or the landfill despite people’s best intentions that they be reused.

The average Yukoner, she said, produces nearly one tonne of waste every year (including construction waste). Of that, 20 per cent of it is diverted from the landfill through recycling and 11 per cent is further diverted through composting, leaving 69 per cent to go to landfill.

Reusing or repairing damaged goods is, in my mind, a way of reducing this, so I love yard sales and free stores and flea markets. It’s also a very Yukon trait, part of the culture of do-it-yourself and self reliance which attracted me to the territory.

This do-it-yourself culture is beginning to wane in the Yukon, however, said Lewis Rifkind, conservationist with the Yukon Conservation Society and self-proclaimed “king of reuse culture.”

“When I first moved here in 1992, you could still sift through the landfill … but all that has changed,” said Rifkind. “I understand why — liability, proper waste management and such — but we seem to have moved away from that self-sufficient, work-with-what-you’ve got culture and moved to an if-you-need-it-buy-it culture.”

Part of this, his says, has to do with what he sees as increased economic prosperity among Yukoners, but it’s more largely “a shocking indictment of our consumer culture.”

“People are very keen to donate used things, but not to buy them,” he said. “You’re expected to buy everything shiny and new.”

Shiny and new was not what I was looking for. One thing I love about buying used is that I often wind up with unusual things. Today, I walk away with two pairs of name-brand, well-fitting jeans, a scarf, a set of records (despite the fact that I don’t yet own a record player), a clock someone has drawn a sled dog on, a wooden plate with brass deer to hang my keys on, a handful of new flies for catching grayling from the very enthusiastic and delightful fly-tier selling his wares, a Rhino fillet knife, a fishing net, a copy of Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse and, best of all, a 16-inch 38-cc Poulan chainsaw, complete with a little gas tank and jug of two-stroke oil.

The chainsaw needs an adjustment, the fuel drained, and maybe a new spark plug, but I don’t mind. Fixing things is a pleasure you don’t get when you buy something brand new.

The next flea market is scheduled for May 27.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com