The tiny Iowa town of What Cheer — population 619 — turns into a collector’s paradise three weekends each year. This flea market, known as the What Cheer Flea Market, is one of the largest in the Midwest. It has rows and rows of vendors hawking everything from antique treasures to vintage trinkets. You’ll find furniture and farm machinery, tools and primitives, jewelry and collectibles, china, stamps, coins, baseball cards, upcycled goods and much more. The market’s popularity means it attracts a mix of seasoned professionals and mom-and-pop amateurs. Regardless of your experience level, this is an excellent place to paw through secondhand goods and seek out those hidden treasures.
The markets take over the fairgrounds at the Keokuk County fairgrounds, with five buildings and plenty of outdoor space to explore. You can expect to see thousands of locals and tourists scouring the stalls for bargains. But if you approach the market with the right mentality, the whole experience can be redemptive and even inspiring. After all, this is where junkers and repurposers go to unleash their inner creativity by breathing new life into castoff scraps. You can witness this spirit in handmade art like birdhouses constructed from rusted and peeling repurposed junk and in projects that turn vintage clothing into a dress or a discarded car into a home.
Of course, like any large flea market, you’ll also find your share of escapist souvenirs. It’s hard to resist a piece of Nazi paraphernalia, especially when it comes with a handwritten price tag that proudly proclaims the item was used by Hitler’s troops in genocidal attacks on civilians.