Clark’s Flea Market U.S.A. was created in the summer of 1977 by Charles and Dorothy Clark. Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, Charles (Charley) spent most of his youth working in the cattle industry. Dorothy (Dot), also growing up in New York’s upper region, was involved in the many chores of running their family’s little country store in Clintonville, New York.
One day, as luck would have it, Charley stopped in at the small country store. He met Dot and, over a short period of time, they become inseparable partners. They married in the winter of 1960 and over the next few years had three children: Sondra, Steven and Scott.
In 1969, looking for something new in their life and with the encouragement of Dot’s brother who was living in South Florida, Charley and Dot decided to pack things up and head for Florida. Realizing the opportunities available in the FL livestock industry, they decided to make it their home. Settled in their new home, Charley started raising cattle and dealing in livestock.
It was not uncommon to make trips back home, which happened quite often. Our reason was not so much to see family but for those wonderful Michigan Hot Dogs. Yes, people, to this day, find it hard to believe that Charley and Dot would pack the kids in the car from south Florida – or from anywhere, for that matter, wherever they may be on a Friday night – to make a trip to Au Sable Forks. we would pull into Charley’s Mom & Dad’s farm to say hi, then on to see Dot’s Mom & Dad, also to just say hi, then beat feet to get that longing love of a Hot Dog at Clare & Carl’s Hot Dog Stand. Then it was back on the road heading home to have the kids back in school on Monday morning. So, as you can tell, travel was really no big deal (it was just another road trip for the family).
In 1974, the cattle industry took a turn for the worse and prices began to bottom out. Charley realized the industry would take a lengthy amount of time to recover. Charlie and Dot decided to take advantage of this opportunity to travel the United States and allow their children to experience the different cultures and landscapes the U.S. had to offer. Pulling a U-Haul and driving a recycled Blue Bird school bus that they had bought on one of their many trips back home, Charley, Dot and the kids were off. Our destination – Lebanon TN. The big blue bus was a partly converted, unfinished camper just big enough to call home. The kids were enrolled in school to finish out the year and as soon as summer arrived another road trip began. This time it took them to Nogales, AZ. It was 1975 and school was started, to begin. As soon as the first break from school began, the family was off again. The family was off on another road trip through California, Oregon and arriving in Spokane, Washington.
Work had become a little harder to find so Dot took a job as a nurse’s aide and Charley was taking on small jobs here and there to keep the family going. Charley would try to make some extra money by taking the kids to the auction while Dot was at work. He tried his luck at selling and dealing again. This time not so much with cattle but with used items. Soon the cattle trailer that had been towed behind the Blue Bus all those thousands of miles was packed with tools, antiques, work gloves and anything else Charley could buy in bulk and resell at a reasonable profit.
After a long hard Washington winter, it didn’t take long for Charley and Dot to realize that Florida seemed to be a warmer and more comfortable place to settle back down to finish raising their children. The decision was made and they headed back to Florida.
As their journey home began, they chose their route carefully through Oregon with their first stop in California. There, they ran into a couple that told them about a large flea market in Oklahoma – a great place to sell some of their goods and make lots of money – fast money! After hearing this, Charley set out for Oklahoma. They drove all night to reach the flea market only to find a small market with three vendors set up and ready to sell. Disappointed, Charlie and Dot decided to do something to help prevent others from having the same experience. This is how The Clark’s Flea Market U.S.A. National Directory came about. By someone giving the wrong information to Charley and Dot, they realized that there was a need for a directory of flea markets – one that would cover the entire United States, help other families and prevent others from being let down by driving such a long distance only to find three dealers or, better yet, nothing but an empty field.
They left Oklahoma and headed back to California. Charley decided to work the markets from California to Florida working only the markets that they had done research on and knew, for a fact, were real market worth attending. At this point money was getting short and they needed a good selling market. They worked Bakers Field, CA and then on to San Jose CA. Next to Texas where they found First Monday Trade Day’s in Canton. This was by far the largest market yet. They knew if they could print a directory of Flea Market this would be a flea market to sell the book in someday.
By 1976, in just 2 short years, we had crossed the United States in a makeshift school bus camper and were back on the East Coast. Dot’s brother from South Florida had moved to Pensacola and it was our next stop. When we got there, Charley, Dot and the kids were tired of traveling so they decided to make Pensacola their home. The kids started back in school and Charley and Dot began working on information about Flea Markets across the United States. Soon they had enough information to start the book that millions know today as the Bible of Flea Markets!
The first book “Clark’s Flea Market U.S.A. Directory” was printed in the summer of 1977 and put together around a card table in the middle of the living room floor by just family and a few friends as money was very short. The book, was at that time, printed by a small printing company in Pensacola. Dot kept the paperwork, phone orders and so on as it didn’t take long for word to get out of such a book. Not only did orders come in, but new markets would call daily with excitement that they too wanted in on this great way to advertise their markets. Charley did the layout of ads and ran the printing press. Scott, the youngest son, would pitch in and watch the press so Charley could go back to laying more pages out for the next run (part) of book. It would be stacked to dry and then back to the printer again for the other side. Once printing was complete, it would go to the folder. When the kids got home from school they all would find their place and start right in and help put the book together. Dot and her daughter Sondra would spend hours at the kitchen table putting pages together, all by hand. Stack after stack of pages, as high as they could reach, all just to get the job done. This was done day after day until all pages were correctly put in the directory. Some nights the family found themselves eating dinner holding their plates in their laps because they couldn’t find the kitchen much less the table. After all the pages were in complete order, Steven, the middle child, would run the stapler. The book was then taken to the cutter where the pages were trimmed evenly and ready for shipping.
In 1981, Clark’s moved to a new location in East Milton, Florida, where Charley, in his wheeling and dealing, started a junkyard and recycling center. At this point, most of the work was handled by Dot and Sondra. Sondra had now become a full-time employee working for the company. As the book began to grow, it would take from before daylight until after sunset most nights and, on many occasions, on into the A.M. just to complete that day’s work and get ready for the next day. The book had grown so big so fast that the press hardly ever stopped running trying keep up with all the new orders coming in daily. Dot was still taking care of the billing and orders while Charley and Sondra would strip up ads together by a homemade light table. It wasn’t long before Sondra learned how to do the camera work using an antique bellows camera with more black tape holding it together than it had thread. Order after order just kept coming in. In order to keep up with the demand, Charley hired a few local women to help out with the collating process. In order to describe how we felt about everyone who worked on the book, you will find the employees were never called ’employees’ – ever! They were family and even if they were not really a family member, they were still considered family to us. Still behind from the increased demand for the book and moving to the new location, Charley decided to subcontract a small part of the book to a local printer.
One day, Charley sent Sondra out to pick up some of the pages that were subcontracted out for printing. She asked the printer (Dave) how he developed the film to make the plates. Dave gladly showed her one afternoon for a few minutes how it all worked. This, of course, was another new learning experience, something none of us knew anything about. Charley converted the bathroom into a makeshift dark room for developing the film. From that point on, Sondra was given the job of the film developing process. All the film work hung where ever we could find a place to hang it. Most of the time and always in a hurry, we would blow dry the film with hair dryers to speed up the drying process. From there, it would go to the opaque table where Dot would fill in all the white spots on the film. It took both Dot and Sondra hours just to get enough film ready so the girls would have pages to collate the next morning. Remember, white on the film turns black on the paper so anything that you don’t want to show on paper has to be blackened out. After this was done, Sondra would strip up the layout sheets and get them ready to burn on the new plates for the press. The book, once collated by hand as you can see in the pictures, would then go to the stapler while the press continued to run in the background. Often you would hear one of the girls yell out, “Sondra!! The PRESS!!” By this time, Sondra had all the responsibility of the press room because it took all Dot’s time just to keep up with changes in the book, ads coming in, bookkeeping work, and the typesetting of the book.
Sondra’s son Allen, (who is in some of the pictures) as an infant, would spend many hours sound asleep in a paper box beside his mother while she ran the press. It didn’t take a rocking chair to put him fast asleep – just the sound of the press. Soon, the paper boxes were used not only for shipping, but for toy boxes as well. Allen spent much of the time playing in the paper boxes next to the printing press where his mother could keep an eye on him while keeping the paper in order as it was coming off the press. As he got older, he kept trying to answer the phone to help Grandma Dot so we provided him with a non-working real phone to help out! A few years later he is pictured showing you how the book is put together. Yes, the girls all loved his help. We couldn’t have done it without the help of the girls watching over him. So, thank you all (the one’s that see this) for the role model you played in Allen’s life and the big role you played in putting the book together while also helping with Allen. As you can see in the pictures, he was always around the girls being the little helper. The next step was taking the book to the binder – a machine that put colored tape on the seam of the book. Once bound,the outer edges would be trimmed straight and smooth. Finally, it was shipping time. It took all that Dot, Sondra and all the girls could do to get orders ready for the next few days. We had to count books, pack boxes and install shipping labels on all the orders going out for that day. We knew we were finished with the book when all the orders were stacked at the back door waiting to be picked up by UPS!
One summer morning in 1991, while all of us were putting the book together, a wind storm took the roof off the office. Pages were blowing all over and everything was a total disaster. Clark’s was again on the move to a new location. This time Charley and Dot decided on Garcon Point a, small community still located in Milton, FL. You can bet that edition was very late! In 1993, on the 61st edition, Charley and Dot choose to hire the printing out due to newer technology and the ever-increasing printing costs. Commercial printing was cheaper and less work on everyone. Since the printing was being subcontracted out, Dot moved the office to inside her home so that it would be more convenient for everyone. Our family was growing. Sondra had now married and over the next few years had given birth to another two sons – Brandon and Cody. Having three children / grandchildren, the demand on Sondra and Dot was greater than ever before and required a lot more of their attention. Charley’s mother had also joined the family as she was getting much older and had suffered a stroke. Mrs. Clark took up much needed attention for her day – to – day life. Dot and Sondra took turns taking care of her and running the office at the same time. Sondra ran a separate office from her home doing research for new or closed markets, updating the book and making changes over the phone at nights.
In 2000, Charley and Dot divorced and, in 2004, Dot found herself working alone on the book. Sondra, Brandon and Cody had moved to Slidell, LA. Allen was now a young man and had joined the U.S. Marines just a few years earlier. To make things even worse, Dot was faced with yet another challenge, Hurricane Ivan on September 16, 2004. This time the storm would destroy everything. Determined not to be defeated, Dot was once again forced to move the office. Attempting to save her records from the storm, Dot put what she felt were her most important items in her car. She included her computer and screen copies of the books and her billing statements. Dot’s only choice was to stay with her brother who lived very close by. They had no electricity for weeks after the storm. Dot continued to store her things in her car. After days had gone by with it being left in the car at her brother’s house in the hot Florida sun, the heat had deleted all of the data and the book from the computer. Not about to give up, she retyped the entire book back into a new computer. So yes, the 84th edition was very late again. The 84th edition has what her house looked like after the storm hit. Mother nature wasn’t very nice that year! On August 3rd of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit destroying all of Sondra’s family’s belongings in Louisiana. That’s what brought her back home to Pensacola.
After about a year and half of looking for a new home, Dot was able to find a house with a building in the back yard in Cantonment, FL. The family all pulled together to make her a very nice office. Clark’s Flea Market U.S.A. is now located in Cantonment, Florida. Finally, the book was back on track. At times, those of us who live in Florida just have to deal with what Mother Nature gives to us. Dot, like thousands of other people that year, held her head high and started over. Once again, her customers helped her pull through a very hard time. It was in 2013 that Dot was to face her next challenge.
In December of 2012, Dot took a fall early one morning and broke her hip. This again put the book late. Thank God for all of Dots wonderful markets. They all helped through their loyalty and understanding. What had started out as a directory of flea markets had turned into a labor of love. Dot always looked forward to and enjoyed talking daily with her many customers. It wasn’t long after the fall that Dot was diagnosed with essential tremors and TIA’s along the right side of her brain. This was causing her not to be able to write or even complete much of her work. When she attempted to use the keyboard or the mouse, it would be all over the screen from top to bottom. She would try taking messages down but couldn’t read them afterword. If you know Dot, she doesn’t give up. She even wanted to try using a recorder to take orders. The tremors had gotten so bad, that she was even having a hard time keeping food on her spoon or getting it into her mouth. With the medication not helping much, Dot’s writing was at the point of being totally unreadable. She found herself ready to give up on the book or even trying to find someone she could trust to be partners with in the company.
One evening, Sondra overheard Dot talking about the future of the book. Sondra told Dot that it was time for Dot to retire and let the next generation take over what Dot had accomplished with the book and the company. Dot had worked so hard to build and grow the book and Sondra just didn’t want to see all the many years Dot had put into it go to waste. Sondra was working, at the time, as a caregiver. It was a job she really enjoyed. However, she felt God had other plans for her. She felt her place was to try to save what her mom had worked so many long hours, days and nights to build. Sondra sat down with her mom and asked her if she would like her to take the company over, keeping Dot involved as a consultant. Seeing that this would be best for both the company and herself, Dot agreed. Sondra had been involved in almost every aspect of the company for many years. Dot felt that passing down the book to her was a wise choice. For Sondra, it has been a learning experience. Sondra still has to call her mom from time to time asking ”Well, how should I do this?” Sondra now works mostly from her home but is only two minutes from her mom’s house if she needs anything. On top of keeping the book going, she takes care of her mom’s needs such as shopping, going to doctor’s appointments and, of course, the occasional nail appointment. As for the book, it is printed and readied for shipping by the same vendor that Dot had been using.
Sondra has made some changes in the book as all of you may have noticed. Her goal was to make it easier to read, to streamline updates and to ensure timely future publications.
It has been a long time coming, but we are excited to announce that within the very near future, Clark’s Flea Market Directory will have a new app. You will then be able to have a copy of the book no matter where you are. Yes, we will still have the paperback book edition, but soon we will begin offering it in the form of an app as well. You’ll be able to have the most current edition on your cell phone, tablets or computers.
As for an update on Dot, she took another fall in Feb. 2017 and broke the other hip. She reads a lot now and I get great enjoyment seeing her relax; she deserves it so very much. If any of you would like to drop her a line, I know she would love to hear from you. Her address is still the same: 712 Cricket Circle, Cantonment, FL 32533
I hope you have enjoyed the story of the book, all the pictures and how it came to be along with where Sondra plans to take it.
Thank you for your time,
The Original Clark’s Flea Market U.S.A.
2345 Pompano Street
Cantonment, FL 32533