Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Joshua Dillen

Baker City Herald

SUMPTER - Sumpter has been under occupation since Friday. The fairgrounds, along with every nook and cranny in town, have been taken over.

It's not an alien invasion. The mountain community about 28 miles southwest of Baker City is hostingits annual Fourth of July flea market.

Vendors from all over the country set up booths to sell their wares and treats. Tourists and locals flocked to the event to enjoy some high- mountain bargain hunting and tasty food.

Sumpter, population 170, puts on a flea market three times each year: during Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.

Louis Deckard, owner of the Colossal Onion Blossoms food cart, has been coming to Sumpter for six years.

"We enjoy coming up here. The locals are just wonderful people. It's just a great place to spend the holiday," Deckard said.

His concession is one of the only places to get a deep-fried Hostess Twinkie. Before the popular sweet treat was discontinued last year he bought as many as he could and filled two huge freezers.

Reese's peanut butter cups and Oreo cookies are two of the other desserts he cooks in a fryer and sells along with deep-fried cheese, burgers and Philly cheese steaks.

"The deep-fried cheese is sharp Tillamook cheddar. It's heaven on a stick," Deckard said. "If you're a cheese lover - it's the ultimate. It's like a grilled cheese sandwich on a stick."

From tie-dyed clothes to fajitas and snow cones, there were numerous and varied items for sale across the town. Some booths resembled a yard sale along with others that sold gold and silver jewelry. One booth even sold Avon products.

Locals traversed the town on four-wheelers and utility vehicles as they enjoyed the festivities along with hundreds of customers from out of town. A water truck routinely doused the gravel streets to keep the dust down.

Owners of SandJ Concessions, Sandy Skelton and her grandson, James "Spider" Burdge, are more than familiar with the flea market.

"We are the oldest food booth that has been coming to all three shows routinely," Burdge said. "I was nine when I first came here and have been coming back for 23 years."

The grandmother/grandson team travels all summer providing concessions to flea markets across the West. Burdge runs a tattoo and piercing shop in Quartzsite, Ariz., when he is not attending flea markets.

Skelton used to run the convenience store at Oregon State University in Corvallis and retired from that job 10 years ago.

Patrick Ryan Esposito, maintenance manager at the fairgrounds in Sumpter, estimates there are about 70 booths total with about 30 of them at the fairgrounds. He is in charge of organizing the vendors at the fairgrounds and getting them set up. Esposito pointed out the differences among the three weekends the event is held.

"The other two markets are exponentially larger. You can't even compare them," said Esposito.

He said the flea markets provide most of the local business income for the year and boost the local economy substantially.

"It's a ghost town during the winter, but we keep pretty busy during the summer, especially for the flea markets."

Julie McKinney, city recorder for Sumpter, agrees that the flea markets are very important for the town.

"For the businesses, they depend on them (the flea markets). They say without the flea markets we wouldn't be able to stay open because it slows down so much in the winter," McKinney said. "The businesses are 100 percent dependent on the flea markets to carry them through the lean months"

Sumpter Mayor John Young was hard at work for the town's volunteer fire department selling hot dogs to raise money to match a$10,000 federal grant the department has applied for.

During the Memorial Day weekend market they raised $2,000 for much needed medical supplies for the city's quick response unit.

"We rely on them (the flea markets) to raise money for the department. It's a good event for the town. Remind everybody the next flea market is Labor Day weekend."

The Labor Day flea market is scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 2.