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    Tuesday, December 05, 2023

    Jewett City Flea Market features nostalgic treasures

    Phil Taylor (right), of Norwich, inspects baseball cards brought in by a customer at Dan Steighner’s shop at the College Mart Flea Market on Sept. 24, 2023. Steighner and Taylor have both collected cards since they were kids. (Daniel Drainville/The Day).
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    From left to right: a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rookie card, an O.J. Simpson rookie card and a 1969 Wilt Chamberlain card are presented by their owner, Phil Taylor of Norwich, at the College Mart Flea Market on Sept. 24. (Daniel Drainville/The Day).
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    Frank Ramanski Jr., 65, of Niantic, stands next to his collection of model vehicles. (Daniel Drainville/The Day).
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    One of the flea market’s largest book sellers, John Sawchuk of Colchester, shows off a sculpture done by the former secretary of the Communist Party of Connecticut at the College Mart Flea Market on Sept. 24. (Daniel Drainville/The Day).
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    A sign at the entrance/exit to the College Mart Flea Market at 2 Wedgewood Drive in Jewett City on Sept. 24 thanks customers for shopping. (Daniel Drainville/The Day).
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    Griswold ― For about 40 years, a flea market in Jewett City has offered vendors and customers a space to relive parts of their pasts.

    The College Mart Flea Market, vendors said, is just as much a museum as it is a place for purchasing personal treasures.

    On a rainy Sunday morning, hundreds of customers walked through the doors of the old Slater Mill building and into the sprawling maze of jewelry, clothing, books and much more. Really, just about anything one could possibly imagine can be found within the walls of this shopping center.

    After they walked through the doors of the historic building, customers’ nostrils were engaged by a smell like incense burning in an old bookstore.

    At one of the market’s largest booksellers, owner John Sawchuk of Colchester sits among bookcases filled with classic novels. He said, surprisingly, that the books have become one of the better sellers among many of the market’s younger customers.

    An avid reader himself, Sawchuk said his shop encompassed only part of his collection.

    “Each person tends to stick to what they like,” he said, referring to the shops.

    “I’ve always liked midcentury modern, that’s why I have the stuff up there,” as he pointed to a row of paintings across the room on the opposite wall.

    Sawchuk was one of the only vendors in this large but densely-packed space Sunday. The owner of an adjacent shop was dealing with some health issues, so Sawchuk watched over his shop along with several others.

    He spoke to a sense of community among the market’s vendors, and said that he even keeps some items as a memorial to deceased vendors.

    “I have stuff on the walls from past dealers who’ve passed away,” he said.

    As for the treasures housed in this old building, Sawchuk said he believes customers find “pretty much anything in here.”

    “It’s a memory trip. You see things you had as a kid,” he added.

    Oftentimes, the shops are full of collectibles from hobbies they’ve nurtured since they were young.

    Frank Ramanski Jr., 65, of Niantic, presided over shelves, display cases and tables packed with a variety of model vehicles.

    “This is my world. Both sides,” Ramanski said, referring to his collection of cars, trucks and planes that lined both sides of the wooden walkway. Ramanski estimated his shop held around 12,000 to 13,000 items in total, but most were toy cars.

    “I’m a car fanatic at heart,” Ramanski said. “Anything with wheels treats me.”

    Ramanski said one of his mantras is that he always thinks of the customer first. One, it’s good for business, he said, and two, it makes people happy.

    Despite using his shop as a way to make money for his retirement, and pouring $200 to $300 into new items for the shop every week, Ramanski said he likes to give away some items.

    “There’s days where you’re lucky to make 50 bucks,” he said.

    Still, children who visit his shop are usually allowed a free “hot wheels” car. Ramanski said he loves to see the children walk away with a smile on their face.

    “You should see the look on their face just because you’re giving it to them,” Ramanski said.

    Ramanski, who also works at Electric Boat in Groton, said the income from the shop varies.

    “But my job’s killing me, this place keeps me alive,” Ramanski said.

    Open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the College Mart Flea Market is located at 2 Wedgewood Drive in Jewett City


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