Tracy Davison drags her grandson, David Bass, with her to First Monday for one important reason.
“I always buy some things, and David always has to carry them,” said Davison as she perused moss roses, begonias and snap dragons in dozens of flats spread over a chunk of patchy sod and asphalt.
The pair are regulars at the massive monthly flea market/swap meet in Weatherford.
“We come every month, always on Saturday so I can plant on Sunday,” Davison said. “I’ve been to Canton and Stephenville, and I’ve been to Traders Village [in Grand Prairie], and this is the best. It’s close to home and you can find anything you want. And then you find stuff you didn’t know you wanted.”
Folks have been finding stuff they didn’t know they wanted for 160 years in Weatherford. The city hosted its first trade days, then known as First Monday Stray Day, in 1858 on the courthouse square.
Now, it’s located in the heart of Weatherford’s historical district on Santa Fe Drive, near the farmer’s market. The event has gotten a makeover in recent years, and since 2011 it has ballooned from 120 vendor spaces to 450, according to Shannon Goodman, director of parks and recreation and special events in Weatherford.
“The renovation over the past eight years has rejuvenated the interest of the public and created a parklike atmosphere to the event,” Goodman said.
The most popular reason folks attend, Goodman said, is, “There is something for everyone.”
Melissa Malin found the very thing she didn’t know she wanted as she passed a booth on her way to look for more chickens to raise on her farm in unincorporated Parker County near Azle. Livestock has its own area, slightly removed from the rest of First Monday.
But almost as soon as she walked into the swap meet, Malin’s attention was arrested by a handmade ladder leaning against a display that held a saddle and tack once used by Ty and Ashley Munden, former rodeo performers who live in Weatherford.
“This is almost the same as one I have in my chicken coop,” Malin said of the ladder. “My chickens like to roost on it. But this is prettier. I like rustic.”
Ashley Munden said a recent Saturday was the first time she and her husband had opened a booth at First Monday to sell handmade earrings and rodeo stuff they had collected over the years.
“We make earrings as a hobby,” Munden said. “We’ve done pretty decent today, and we’ve only been here a couple of hours.”
The swap meet, though named First Monday and originally a one-day event, happens on the weekend before the first Monday of each month.
Now, along with thousands of visitors that spend money across the city, the swap meet brings welcome revenue to the city itself. In 2016 parking and booth fees garnered $142,519; in 2017, $146,620.
Also, while Goodman said no official data exists on where visitors come from, they obviously come from a lot of places.
“We have chatted with guests that were visiting from all over the world, from Germany, Canada, China and Italy, plus from all over the United States,” he said.
Besides revenue, First Monday stands for “heritage, tradition, what Weatherford is known for, community involvement and tourism,” Goodman said.
Gary Miller and Louise Pausewang of Azle strolled the wide asphalt lanes between treasure-laden tables, drawing only a few curious stares at the 40-caliber handgun on Miller’s hip. Openly wearing a pistol has raised fewer eyebrows with time’s passage.
“Right after open-carry was approved [it became legal on Jan. 1, 2016], I had a lady raise hell with a police officer and I heard them talking,” Miller said. “He was saying ‘He’s not doing anything wrong.’ But eventually, he walked over to me and said the woman was going to talk with his boss, so he asked to see my [concealed handgun license]. When I showed him, he said thank you and walked away. There’s been nothing since then but a few odd looks.”
A group of men carrying much older weapons were also drawing lots of looks, but that’s why they were at First Monday.
Kelly Weston of Millsap, Jim Harvey of Graford and Randall Scott Erwin of Mineral Wells sported Civil War uniforms and gear, drawing in customers for the Confederate-themed T-shirts, flags, shot glasses and other souvenirs for sale to support efforts to preserve statues honoring Confederate soldiers. They feel that their heritage is being attacked by folks who want to do away with such memorials. But those folks don’t come around much.
“We’ve gotten 100 percent support from everyone,” Harvey said. “Not one person has told us we’re going the wrong way.”
Enough First Monday shoppers agree with Harvey’s philosophy that some of the most popular flags among those flapping in the wind over Michael Rose’s Southern Heritage Rugs & Flags are Confederate battle flags adorned with AR-15 silhouettes and/or slogans like “Come and Take It,” and anything military- or Second Amendment-related.
“The Texas flag is No. 1,” said Rose, a retired stone mason who travels to Houston for the rugs he sells and migrates between First Monday in Weatherford and swap meets in Bowie, Granbury and Stephenville. “Then, next is the U.S. flag, the Rebel flag and other battle flags.”
It should be noted, however, that Rose is an equal-opportunity entrepreneur. One flag designed similar to a U.S. flag featured cannabis leaves among the Stars and Stripes.
“I’ll sell one or two cannabis flags a weekend,” Rose said.
Accessibility, clean parklike feel, better organized vendor spaces, food court and new restrooms highlight the changes in recent years. Goodman said more renovations are in store to the south lot, and more parking as land becomes available.
Jody Green of Sunset hadn’t been to First Monday in years but succumbed to the lure of ornamental plants and yard art. He was shocked at what he found.
“I like it!” Green said. “It’s sensational compared with what it was.”