The unofficial United Nations of Wilson County convenes every weekend at a thriving, open-air shopping center known as Parkland Flea Market.
Here, Tennesseans as well as men and women from a dozen or more countries blend smoothly as they practice traditional American capitalism.
"We're the melting pot, right here," said Parkland office manager Debbie York. "We have people here from El Salvador, Columbia, Mexico, Costa Rico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Nigeria, Korea, China, Taiwan.
"We've gotten away from antiques to new items, and we've gone from Caucasian white people to a lot of Latinos," she says of the market's evolution over the past decade or so.
Toys, tires and treats, oh my
With 325 booths beneath seven sheds and other selling spots with only the sky overhead, Parkland presents an outdoor shopping plaza with hundreds of dealers, thousands of customers and millions of items.
The items include toys, clothing, tires, boots, towels, hats, fishing poles, air tanks, DVDS, sunglasses, tools, plants and trees, candies, nuts and fresh produce such as watermelons, bananas, mangos, rambutanes, avocados, peppers, papaya, coconuts, pineapples and much more.
Concession stands offer hot tacos, frijoles, steaks and ice cold Mexican soft drinks, but you can also dine on popcorn, pancakes, sausage and biscuits.
The flea market, which is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, draws as many as 7,000 to 8,000 some weekends. Sunday has proven to be the busiest day.
Pots to cook in, poultry to cook with
Lebanon's Gwynn Lanius owns Parkland Flea Market, Inc., and leases it to Harold and Faye Anderson of Gladeville, who have operated the business for the past 13 years. They initially set up here in 1985 to sell antiques. York, their right-hand associate, also started as a dealer here in 1991.
Today, vendors bring their goods from as far away as Atlanta and Chicago and from as near as Murfreesboro, Nashville, Gallatin, Smithville, McMinnville, Smithville, Hartsville and Carthage.
Humberto Patino of LaVergne, who sells Mexican artisan items, sets up in a booth nearest to the highway and has been doing business here for 13 years.
"I've been successful here. I make my living from the flea market," he said. "I started with flip-flops, then women's clothes, then car accessories, then blankets. About two years ago I began selling Mexican cooking pots (Cazuela clay cooking pots).
"This flea market has been growing pretty good. Everybody comes from Alabama, Knoxville, Kentucky. We get new people here every weekend."
Meanwhile, down in the Animal Land section, Joe Carmack of Cookeville has been selling a variety of fowl for the past 30 years. His live goods include chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, guinea hens and rabbits.
He says, "Ducks are my best seller. They cost $12 to $20. About 85 percent of my buyers buy them to eat."
History through the future
Owner Lanius shares the history of Parkland, saying, "My dad, Perry Lanius, began this market in one shed building with three dealers in November 1977. He had seen a flea market in Florida and was so impressed that he thought it could be possible to have one here and would be a suitable use for the property that he had acquired across from the Cedars of Lebanon State Park.
"As interest grew, individuals started bringing all types of personal items and merchandise to the market, and soon there was a need to build another building to display all the wares for sale. I joined him in 1983, and we had outgrown four buildings and started building No. 5, making room for some 200 spaces. By 1987, two other buildings were added and made our present size, hosting 300 spaces for vendors.
"My wife Nancy and I leased the market in 1988 and worked with my parents until my father died in 1998. We subleased the market five years later, in 2003, to Harold Anderson, and he has been the manager for the past 13 years. With his staff, Parkland has produced record revenues with this spring showing increases in our concessions as well as our attendance.
"A lot has changed though the years as to the type of vendors and merchandise. Presently, there are a lot of Mexican vendors because we have a lot of Mexican customers, but there are several other Americans displaying their items for sale, especially shrubbery and trees from McMinnville and Sparta area nurseries.
"Several of our dealers through the years have been retired folks that use the market as an activity to stay busy in swapping, buying, selling and enjoying a profit for their labors.
"We have had actual head counts of 7,000 to 8,000 people that come each week with Sunday being the more active day. Along with attracting crowds comes traffic and safety issues and with the help of our State Representative Mark Pody meetings have been conducted with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and agreements have been made for turning lanes on Highway 231 to be installed later this year," Lanius said.
Parkland Flea Market
Where: 4994 Murfreesboro Road (about 7 miles south of Lebanon on Highway 231 South)
When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, now-December 11 (weather permitting)
Info: Call (615) 449-6050
Web site: parklandtn.com