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Totally East Texas: Canton First Monday Trade Days thrives even in online shopping era

Not many shopping experiences compare to the acres and acres of handmade, unique, thrifty and even new First Monday finds. It's Totally East Texas.

CANTON, Texas — Shoppers come from all over to score deals at the oldest and largest continually operating outdoor flea market in the world.

For some, First Monday Trade Days in Canton is a weekend destination. For others, it's home. One thing is for sure: First Monday is Totally East Texas

"Oh my goodness, since I was little because my mom, you know, she would come down here," Marty Nace said.

The first thing people need to learn is First Monday does not actually happen on Monday. If you are new to East Texas, the shopping actually commences before the First Monday of the month on Thursday through Sunday. 

Generation after generation come to the event to buy and sell anything from metal crafts, flags and collector's items to hot sauce, jelly and drink mixers. 

"I try to tell people that I have just done it my whole life. Even though we weren't from Canton, we drove from the Dallas-Fort Worth area once a month and just kind of set up what we felt we could sell," vendor Scott Perkins said.

The scale is of First Mondays is hard to fathom.

There's the Original First Monday Park, Lewis Pavilions and Arbors, The Old Mill Marketplace and The Mountain, Canton Marketplace, Canton Trade Center and the animal grounds. Hundreds of acres to cover with thousands of vendors.

"You know, for me, it's just being able to come down here and find the one of a kind piece," Perkins said. "You know, you might be decorating for special reason or a certain theme for your house, but just you never know what you're going to find when you come down here."

Sometimes those finds have quite the history. 

"Sometimes you buy stuff that you can see just about anywhere. But then sometimes, you wind up with stuff that you won't see anywhere else," Perkins explained.

In addition to the unique items, there are a number of bargains for anyone needing to restock on furniture, dishes, clothes or jewelry.

"I don't know anything that you can't find. I really don't. I mean, like for Christmas, I come down here and I could probably find something for everybody on my Christmas list. Even toys," Nace said. "There's one store here that has baby dolls."

Dolls designed to look just like you as a baby. The shop owner calls herself, the real life "Doc McStuffins."

For those who buy impulsively, it may be too much to carry. In addition to this, there will be plenty of walking. For this, vendors at Trade Days have carts and scooters available for rent.

"You got to have your cart because I mean, they will be full and sometimes at lunch, you got to take your packages back to your car," Nace said, "So you can load the cart back up in the afternoon."

All that shopping will get you hungry. Fortunately, First Monday Trade Days has a fair-like atmosphere with plenty of vendors offering up traditional fair food and some other special bites.

"I usually have my little one with me and she's always hungry. We can get anything from a corny dog to some awesome pretzels that they have in there too," Nace said. "Dippin' Dots, burgers, just about anything pizza, anything you want."

First Monday Trade Days is an event that give the community a sense of pride. It unites the people of Canton with people all over Texas and the country.

"It's a magical place that you have to come and experience, especially in the evenings here on The Mountain. Because once the sun goes down, the lights come up here on The Mountain. It's just a great place. It's got just a really cool vibe and it's just a hip area," said Dale Murphy, a partner in the Old Mill Complex. "We've got a lot of local artisans that come out, entertainment that comes and plays in the evening. Plus, you can actually stay here because we have lots of little bed and breakfasts here on The Mountain, as well."

More than 150 years after the event first began, even in the world of online shopping, Canton still draws crowds of shoppers every month. Some looking for a good deal, others searching for that one of a kind First Monday find.

First Monday falls during Black Friday this year so if you have never been or you want to find unique items and deals for miles, Canton First Monday Trade Days will be open.