Growing up in Fresno, we were pretty poor for most of my early childhood. My father worked as a custodian and my mother decided to go back to college to set a good example for us girls. So, to help with expenses, my grandmother used to sell every weekend at the Sunnyside Swap Meet. My older sister and I would become her loyal assistants for many years.
My grandmother sold workclothes to the farm laborers, long sleeve shirts and denim pants that would protect them from the hot sun and the cold winters. She would sell the items for very little, knowing that they could not afford much. More incredibly, my grandmother did something else pretty amazing on those weekend days. She became for many of her customers, a counselor and source of support. My grandmother would spend part of her week at the Mosqueda center acquiring pamphlets and handouts regarding the many programs available to families. When her clients would come and talk to her, she would sell, and many times give away clothes, along with a dose of advice. She talked to them about their successes, troubles, divorces, fights, children’s accomplishments and most of all she just listened. She did this for many years, and became a staple at the Sunnyside Swap Meet, until she no longer could manage the harsh weather conditions and physical demands of manning her post.
For my childhood, swap meets filled most of my weekends. It was a place that I always felt had so much diversity and life. You could get everything at the swap meet that you needed, so we didn’t need to go to the mall or a discount store growing up. All that we needed in life, for the most part, was located on one of the isles at the swap meet.
The Cherry Auction Swap Meet
Today in Fresno, the swap meets continues to live with new generations of vendors and children lining the isles. So for my Tuesday adventure, I decided to head on out to the Cherry Auction and experience a day filled with new memories and old inspirations.
I arrived around 9:00 am on Tuesday morning. The first thing that struck me was how many people were there for a Tuesday. The isles were filled with vendors selling everything that you can imagine. Now where else in Fresno can you buy a bike from the 1940’s and a bird all within three feet of each other?
I instantly fell back into my old swap meet mode, hair got pulled up and I was ready for the bargain. I had forgotten my sunglasses so I went on a hunt for a good deal. I meet this amazing and funny husband and wife team that cheered every time I tried on a new pair of sunglasses, proclaiming my heightened movie star status. Wonderful salespeople! I settled on a pair of Ray-Ban-esque glasses and went on my way. Five bucks well spent!
On my way I bumped into a lady who was sitting with a few boxes of comic books. She let us know that she had just opened a new thrift store at Blackstone and McKinley and had just come out to help supplement her new business. We rummaged through a few boxes and came up with a couple of winners. We walked away promising her that we would visit her shop to look for more comic books. Two dollars well spent!
Then of course I had to get my wagon wheels (Duros) with chile and limon! Now this is hands-down a staple of most swap meets. Honestly I am not even sure what these are made of. I had to Google it, and according to Wikipedia this is the description:
“Duros are a popular Mexican snack food made of puffed wheat, often flavored with chilli and lime.”
Go figure! All I know is they where so darn good. One dollar well spent!
For me the swap meet will always be the original farmer’s market, so off we went to buy some fruit and vegetables. Here you can find the regular staples, tomatoes, onions, carrots, apples, but then there are many fruits and veggies I had no idea even existed. Every vendor I asked was full of explanations and recipe ideas. I settled for some amazing cantaloupes, and pineapples that were peeled and cored right in front of me. Fruit salad. Yummy Yummy. Four dollars well spent.
The swap meet is filled with a variety of different food vendors selling everything from Chinese food to tacos. We got a couple of carne asada tacos. Now this was totally transporting me to 1988. We sat and people watched and washed our tacos down with some horchata. Six dollars well spent.
Next, I was on a mission to find a nice new leather belt. Now, there are some hardcore vendors here, and I almost came out with a belt that had a big longhorn belt buckle with rhinestones on it. At the last-minute I managed to resist and settled for a demure woven brown one. Twelve dollars well spent.
I think one of the most amazing things about my day is how I realized that things don’t change. In these times of technology and fast paced living, it feels so amazing to be surrounded by people who are working hard at earning their living, just like when I was young. It is a place that makes you see not only the American dream, but it is a place that you can see grit, perseverance, struggle, and community. I could see the new generation of individuals who would not only be selling their goods but giving advice and caring for their customers. I guess I could feel my grandmother Maria’s presence there and I realized that what she did was not unique, but essential for many of her customers.
Today I know that I have become a counselor because of seeing my grandmother work all those years at the swap meet. Most importantly today was a great motivator as my summer winds down, and I gear up to tackle another year of middle school.
So if you want to experience something different, or even if you do it all the time, come on out to a local swap meet. It will be money well spent!
- The Cherry Auction is located at 4640 S Cherry Ave, Fresno, CA 93706 and is held every Tuesday and Saturday from 6:30 to 3:30 pm.
- The Sunnyside Swap Meet is located on 550 E. Olive and is open on Saturday and Sundays 7am to 3 pm.
- The Big Fresno Fair Swap Meet and Flea Market is located at the fairgrounds at 6141 S. Chance Ave, Fresno. They operate on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 6 am to 2 pm.