words: Marla Cantrell images:courtesy The Junk Ranch
The Junk Ranch in Prairie Grove, Arkansas lives a double life. Most days, if you saw this thirty-five-acre site with its big, weathered red barn and quaint white farmhouse, you’d be inclined to snap a photo, to capture a piece of Americana so perfect it seems collected from dreams.
But on certain days in June and October, The Junk Ranch changes. Food trucks roll in, folk, country, and bluegrass music plays, and around 120 vendors fill 250 spaces, bringing everything from antiques to boutique clothing.
Julie Speed and her husband own the property, and Julie and her business partner, Amy Daniels, own The Junk Ranch brand that hosts the sales. The two have a long history together. In the beginning, both had kids who were playing baseball. If you’ve ever had kids who play ball, you understand how much time you spend at practices and games, how much lag time there is to connect with other parents. Sometimes a bond forms. Sometimes friendship is the biggest win of the game.
That’s what happened to Amy and Julie. They had a lot in common, like their love for vintage everything. As they talked, they realized they had harmonious strengths that would make working together a dream.
In 2013, they held their first sale at The Junk Ranch. They didn’t know how it would go—Prairie Grove is a town whose population today is barely over 5,000, and it’s off the beaten path—but they crossed their fingers and tried anyway.
People did show up. They told Amy and Julie how much fun they were having. The event was about more than shopping for one-of-a-kind items; it was about spending a day with family and friends, forgetting the hectic week that lay behind, dropping the expectations of the week that lay ahead.
Since then, the crowds have grown. Last October, 7,500 people attended the two-day event. Amy smiles as she talks about what it’s like to see your dream come true. At nineteen, she attended her first auction in Springdale. She remembers a tattered quilt she saw, remembers thinking how well-made it was, how it seemed to represent a volume of history.
“The first old thing I ever bought was at a flea market near Elkins. It was a bottle shaped like a fish. It was priced at a dollar, and I negotiated them down to fifty cents.” Amy laughs. “I would never do that today, but I was so proud of myself for being able to bargain. They probably took my money just to get me out of there!
“This was before flea markets were cool,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been planning for this life since I was that nineteen-year-old. If you’re going to work hard at something, it’s good to love it. Seeing the crowds, talking to the vendors, it’s wonderful. We’ve even had people jump out of rolling cars to get to the ticket booth.” Amy laughs. “We don’t recommend that, of course. But we do appreciate the eagerness.”
This spring’s event takes place on June 9 and 10. Amy and Julie have been working on the details since January. Just to mow the acreage with a tractor takes eight hours. Selecting vendors takes time, but not nearly as much as in the beginning. Many return year after year and The Junk Ranch has a wide reach, so they get a lot of applications.
To stay on top of their game, and because they love it, Amy and Julie attend the quintessential antique/flea markets in Round Top and Canton, Texas, and in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Even though vintage is, well, vintage, there are still trends to follow, still lots of new things to discover.
Amy can’t pick out a favorite vendor that comes to The Junk Ranch, but she does mention the Jersey Picker, who will travel to Prairie Grove from New Jersey for the third year in a row. He attracts the “artsy crowd,” selling quirky pieces, along with antiques, signs, paper goods, and he’ll tell some of the best stories you’ll ever hear.
Five bands will be playing: The Scorchers, Mountain Gypsies, Sad Daddy, Shannon Wurst, and the HillBenders. Fourteen food trucks and trailers will be there, serving roasted nuts and kettle corn, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, Po’ Boy sandwiches, and cheese curds.
By the time the gates open, every small crisis will have been handled, every concern addressed, every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. Amy and Julie will watch the clock count down, ready to go.
“I never take it for granted. People make fun of me because every time I’ll ask, ‘Do you think people will come?’ And then you see the lines form and it’s a relief. It’s exciting to know people love vintage and junk as much as you do, and that they enjoy what we’re doing.”
Recently, The Junk Ranch was voted “Readers’ Favorite Outdoor Small Fleas & Vintage Shows” by Flea Market Style, a publication Amy calls “the junking Bible.” “That was a huge milestone for us,” Amy says, and then she explains the depth of her love for old things. “You find something old and you see how well-made it was. You think about its original purpose, and you think about the people who’ve owned it. There is so much of a story there. So much intention. I think that’s probably what people who love old things all feel.”
When the June sale is over, Amy and Julie will go into planning mode again, getting ready for their October event. It’s exhausting work but comes with so much satisfaction, she can’t imagine doing anything else. Living and loving what’s old and unique makes life feel new every day. “Is there a better job than that?” Amy asks, and then she answers. “I don’t think there is.”
The Junk Ranch
11195 Centerpoint Church Rd
Prairie Grove, Arkansas
Friday, Early Shopping Day, $10, 10am-6pm
Early Shopping Pass is good for
FREE return on Saturday
Saturday, $5, 9am-5pm
Kids 12 & Under – FREE