New vendors sell handmade items at Portage flea market

May 20, 2019

Bill Born takes his grandsons “shed hunting” -- searching for antlers that deer have shed -- so he can repurpose the antlers into anything from key chains and dog chews to wine bottle or cup holders.

“It’s kind of a fun job,” Born said. “Take the grandkids out, play around, bonding time with them. And then I find different things I can make with them.”

The Waupun resident said he enjoys working with antlers, a hobby he started about eight years ago.

“I wanted to try and do something different, so I started making stuff for myself and the more that I made for myself, everybody else that came through said they were interested in it,” said Born, who set up a stand at the Portage City Flea Market, held in two buildings on the Columbia County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

To make a wine bottle holder, he has to search for antler pieces that will fit together in a way that meets his design, accommodating the curve of a bottle and glasses. Then, he might add small carvings “to add a little bit of a personal touch to it.”

He has shown his wares at the Princeton flea market but this year decided to expand his audience by displaying his wares at the Portage market.

The market, opening earlier in the season this year, offers Born and other vendors an opportunity to share their handcrafted creations. Others sell collectibles, knick-knacks or garage-sale items.

Jeff Rowley of Portage, a returning vendor, offers sporting goods and old records alongside walking sticks, candle holders and other items he carves from wood.

“It’s been a good crowd this morning, which is surprising with all the rain,” Rowley said Saturday.

Organized by the Portage Parks and Recreation Department, the event featured roughly 25 vendors, several of them new, said Leslie Hawkinson. She didn’t know how many people came through to browse or buy, but estimated it was at least 2,000 by noon despite the less-than-ideal weather.

“We had no idea what to expect because we usually don’t do it until June,” Hawkinson said.

Difficulties with scheduling in July -- and bad turnout around July 4 in previous years -- led organizers to skip the month entirely and instead start a month earlier, she said. The market is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on one Saturday in May, June, August and September at the county fairgrounds. The next one will be June 22.

The Portage School District’s cheer teams made their flea market debut as the food vendor. Kelie Breneman, a parent with two girls on the team, said they were raising money for the teams to bolster the small budget they get from the district. They plan to do it again, she added.

Carol Virden of Marshall and her husband, Moe, brought one of the most colorful stands with two-tiered tables displaying custom birdhouses. Since retiring, the couple dove into their hobby. He builds the birdhouses and she paints them various colors or featuring different sports team themes -- even the Minnesota Vikings, though she’s not a fan.

“They’re one of a kind. It’s just fun,” Virden said.

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