By Roger Dey
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

More than just making a buck

Jean and Leroy Cyr find friendship and satisfaction at flea markets

 

Roger Dey

Leroy Cyr says something that gets a chuckle out of his wife Jean.

Occupying their usual spot, just off the main loop in Hooper Park in a campsite among the trees, Leroy and Jean Cyrs' set up, with glittering Rada knives, jams, suspenders and sundry collectibles, is a familiar sight at the Lincoln Flea Market every year.

Over the years, the Cyrs have seen trends change and flea markets come and go around the country, but in Lincoln they played a key role in bringing one back to life.

Jesse Sallin and Pat Habets started the original Rummage and Flea Market here in 1977, but it ceased to exist for a short time around the early 90s, after they handed its management over to others. Fortunately, it wasn't long before the Cyr's saw an opportunity to bring a flea market back to town. Sometime around 1994 or 95 they worked with Burt Teigen, owner of what was then Burt's Shake and Burger, to host a flea market on his property across from Hooper Park.

"We thought the highway frontage there would make a good location, and they thought it was a good idea," Leroy said. As it grew, the market moved to Hooper Park around 2000, primarily due to concerns about insurance costs.

In the 90s there weren't as many established flea markets in Montana as there are now, Jean said. "They were always a hit or miss. They'd start and they would quit."

The Cyr's weren't strangers to flea markets. Before Leroy retired from his 25-year teaching career at Lincoln School, he and Jean spent their summers traveling a flea market circuit.

"In the summer, we travelled a route from here to Sumter, Ore. Then we'd hit (another) one in Oregon and Idaho and come back," Leroy said. "That was fun. We got to see a lot of different people and a lot of history in a lot of these old towns that have flea markets. One might be mining, one might be along an old stage line."


After Leroy retired from teaching, they headed to Arizona for the winters for about 10 years, where they'd get a spot at a semi-permanent flea market at Quartzsite for four months.

For the Cyrs, flea markets are about much more than selling things; it's the customers and their fellow vendors that make it worthwhile.

"The people are great," Leroy said. "You run into some knotheads you can't believe, but normally the people are pretty good."

In some ways, being a regular vendor at a flea market is like being a bartender, he said. Some people just need someone to talk to, and know where to find a friendly ear.

"People would come to our booth, who you don't even know, and they'd just spend the day talking," Leroy said. "You'll know everything about their life."

In Arizona, the same people stopped by regularly, just to talk and have coffee. Jean said in Quartzsite, it was often men who had lost their wives and were basically lonely. That they didn't always buy something wasn't much of a concern.

"You build friendships that way, which is really the part of it I like, visiting with the people," she said.

They also enjoy passing along pointers learned in the years since they started out with just a couple mainstays.

"We started out with garlic and olives and boots, used boots" he said. "That's all we sold for quite a while. We put out a sign that said Boots and Olives, and people thought, 'what in the world is 'Boots and Olives?'"

Although they built friendships with the other vendors in Arizona that last to this day, they retired back to East Helena around 2004, but still spend time hitting shows around Montana

"We've done day shows like the Chokecherry Festival in Lewistown and really enjoyed that. We used to go to an out of the way flea market in Wisdom, Mont. We must have gone down to Wisdom for six or eight years," Leroy said. "It got to be too long of a trip...but it was a great little flea market."

He said it was set up between the town's old church and the community center, which were venues for a gun show on the same weekend.

"That's when I got interested in hitting the gun shows," he said, adding that they're usually indoor, which is a perk. "The outside ones are nice, but it's rough with the weather."

Over the years, they've seen flea markets evolve. Sales tents, once a common site, gave way to the now ubiquitous canopies, and the different types of shows and markets have grown.

"I think a lot of people started having craft type shows and festivals. We go to those also," Jean said. "You have a variety. Some that are handcrafted (shows), some that are second hand, some are antique. It's quite a variety. It's pretty much been that way, but maybe more so now."

The Cyrs changed what they sell as well. Garlic and olives were great sellers, Leroy said, but it's too expensive to have their supplier ship to Montana. Now they have different mainstays.

"I've sold Rada knives for many years," Jean said. "They're a good quality knife, American made. I've sold suspenders, which are American made."

She said Leroy began adding a lot of stuff people might want to use as décor items for a cabin, such as traps or horse collars. Last Friday, they sold an old bull riding rope that'll be used for just such a purpose

"We've sold some strange things over the years," Leroy said.

The Cyr's handed the Lincoln Flea Market back off to Sallin and Bud Kuich not long after it moved to Hooper Park - Sallin thinks it was probably around 2001 - but it remains a special event for them.

"This one, what appeals to us here is, we lived here and we know a lot of people, see a lot of students," Jean said.

Kuich passed away in 2012, and with Sallin stepping back from managing the flea market in the last couple years, they're gratified to see her granddaughter, Kate Radford, step up to take over. They said she's learning, and doing it well.

"She's good at handling people too," Leroy said. "We've been at places where the people in charge of the vendors were really...something."

With the future of the market in good hands, keep an eye out for the Cyrs next year, in their regular,nicely shaded spot among the trees.

"Maybe Jesse said those old timers need a nice spot," Jean joked.

Roger Dey

Jean Cyr helps a customer find the perfect rock Saturday afternoon. Polished and unique rocks are among the couple's best-selling items.

 

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