Shoppers find all sorts of hidden treasures at Canton’s First Monday Trade Days. (Photo by Will van Overbeek)

Each November, my credit card starts trembling as I begin to contemplate the blank canvas that is my holiday shopping list. I, long ago, put away all notions of camping outside of big box stores in search of deep, deep discounts on tube socks, DVDs, and flat-screen TVs. Gift cards are fine as stocking stuffers, but they don’t acknowledge the recipient’s individuality. Since part of the joy of gift-giving is choosing something that speaks specifically to the recipient, I wanted to find a place where I could find unique gifts for the loved ones on my list. That place is Canton’s First Monday, Texas’ largest and oldest flea market, which is held Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of each month.

It’s not on Monday

Canton First Monday Trade Days are held Thursday-Sunday before the first Monday of each month. Next dates are set for Dec. 1-4. Make note: Your credit card is practically worthless here, because most of the vendors are cash-only.

There are plenty of places to stay during a visit in Canton, but it’s best to plan ahead and book your lodging well in advance. Rooms fill up quickly. The market grounds have RV hookups for the road warriors.

Those looking for more creature comforts can stay at:

Red Rooster Inn, 611 Trade Days Blvd.

The Dockside Cottages and Junk & Disorderly B&B are both located at The Mountain, 542 Highway 64 East.

Canton Square Bed & Breakfast, 133 S. Buffalo St.

AAA on Pecan Acres, 6000 Forest Lane

Canton’s First Monday Trade Days started before the Civil War, when circuit judges would travel around their jurisdictions holding court dates. Canton’s appointed day was the first Monday of the month. It also became the appointed date for auctioning stray horses, then mushroomed into people bringing livestock and excess crops for trading. First Mondays also became the perfect opportunity to reunite with their far-flung relations in the absence of reliable forms of communication. By the close of the 19th century, First Mondays was an established cultural event for the residents of Canton and Van Zandt County. More than 150 years later, that is still the case.

When I arrived in Canton, between Dallas and Shreveport on I-20, I was overwhelmed. I entered the main marketplace, staring down 100 acres’ worth of vendors and goods without the faintest clue of where to start. I gathered my courage and wandered into the belly of the beast, starting with the shops along the outskirts of The Arbors.


"C" is for Canton. (Photo by Wil van Overbeek)

It wasn’t long before I spotted a group of women in bright pink t-shirts with “Crazy Canton Crew” written on the front and personalized, with their name, on the back. They also each carried personalized shopping buggies. This group of mothers, sisters and daughters come from Shiner every October to shop and enjoy a ladies’ weekend. They look like they could offer a tip or two.

“The secret is to come with an agenda,” says one, who was shopping for her new baby. Another was shopping for furnishings for her new house. And another was on the lookout for costume jewelry and seasonal items.

I’ve done enough yoga to understand the act of setting your intentions. As with yoga, I take a moment and look inward. The faces of family members appear before my third eye. These people and the individual quirks are why I’m here. The challenge of going beyond the gift card will make me a better person. I can do this.

With this newfound sense of clarity, I dove in, weaving among the stalls with an eye toward clothing. There were floral dresses and t-shirts with messages declaring allegiance to seasonal trends like pumpkin spice. At the Fat Rat Family’s shop, I learned that it’s possible to buy matching robes for your young daughter and her American Girl doll, along with a comically oversized Christmas stocking that will make your expectations fully transparent to Santa Claus.


Heather Dennis makes bows at Southern Miss Bowtique. (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

I hit the mother lode for my nieces, who love cheerleading, at Southern Miss Bowtique. The walls were covered in crisp, hand-crafted hair bows approximately the size of a toddler’s head, and in a multitude of color schemes suitable to any team affiliation. There also were ornate headbands for babies and “over-the-top” fascinators for those looking to make a fashion statement.

My focus soon shifted to home decor, with my ‘Fixer Upper’-loving cousin in mind. Many vendors offer hand-carved wooden crosses and angels for those looking to adorn their walls with rustic Christian iconography, as well as some truly special handmade Christmas tree ornaments. There were lamps upcycled from industrial fans for a decidedly steampunk feel. But when my eye caught the “Holy shiplap!” t-shirt among Gubba & Dangy’s stall stuffed full with adorable shabby chic items – from distressed window frames to tea towels with cheeky graphics on them – I knew I could cross my cousin off my shopping list. Mission accomplished.


Richard Chestnut’s Workshop. (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

Just a few booths down, Richard Chesnut’s Woodshop showcased handmade butcher blocks, cutting boards, and lazy Susans inlaid with crushed Australian turquoise. While I had a hard time not purchasing one for myself, I reckon these would make excellent wedding gifts.

There in the sea of furniture, including handmade rustic rocking chairs and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces, I found customized convertible game tables made by NDH Game Tables out of Lufkin. The tables are great for a picnic, a poker game or LEGO board (complete with storage). The wait list is long, but this would be a cherished addition for any family that loves to gather for game night.

Speaking of dinner, there are plenty of food-related gift-giving opportunities here. My mother-in-law and I like to trade food finds from our travels. While in Canton, I picked up a packet of cheesy chicken enchilada soup from All of Us Old Plantation Soup and Dip to gift her this December, along with a corn chip casserole mix from Hearn-based Company’s Coming for my Frito pie-loving son. Then, I treated myself to an afternoon snack of decadent chocolate pudding from Dallas-based Pudding on Smiles, which is available by mail order, but also is a great pick me up when you’ve been browing First Monday for miles.


Canton Trade Days’ Dog Alley. (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

After all that walking, my dogs were barking, but I couldn’t come to Canton and not visit Dog Alley, which is where you go if you want to purchase a purebred English Bulldog, a saddle, and a llama in one shopping trip. On the grounds of what was an earlier iteration of the main marketplace, Dog Alley has a much more rustic feel, with many open-air vendors selling pets, livestock and other sundries, including leashes, tug toys, dog beds, and barrettes and bow ties for the most fashionable puppies.

I was at Canton for two days, but barely scratched the surface of those 100 acres. I did, however, find something interesting for nearly everyone on my shopping list (including me). I can see myself coming up with excuses to spend the first weekend of nearly every month perusing the universe of goodies under the canopies in this tiny East Texas town.


From the November 2016 issue

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