When I was in middle school (or Junior High, as they called it back then), occasionally one of my classmates would show up with some cool contraband object that they would show off at recess. It might be a toy, a knife, or some other thing they weren’t supposed to have at school. When asked where they got it, the answer was invariably the Anderson Jockey Lot.
Thus, the place gained a mystique even before my first visit. When my dad did take us, the Jockey Lot was just as exotic as I imagined, with booths selling strange oils, unusual foods, and with even stranger customers wandering the long buildings that seemed to go on forever. However, with the perspective of age the Jockey Lot lost much of its mystique. On this last visit it struck me as a sad place, a place very much in decline.
The Anderson Jockey Lot was started in 1974 by Dickie McClellion and D. C. Bryson. That would have been about the time I was in Junior High, so the place was a still a novelty when my classmates showed up with their treasures. Since then the Jockey Lot has grown to cover 65 acres and over 2,000 spots for vendors, much of that contained within long enclosed buildings. Nearby along US Highway 29 other peripheral businesses have sprung up, hoping to take advantage of Jockey Lot traffic.
This particular Saturday’s trek was spur-of-the-moment, as many of these adventures are. You don’t want to plan and reflect too long on a trip to the Jockey Lot or you’ll talk yourself out of it. Add to that the fact that I hadn’t been to the Jockey Lot in years, preferring to do something else on Saturdays and getting my flea market fix on Wednesdays in Pickens, and that I’d just spent a year in the flea market wasteland of the Pacific Northwest. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I arrived at about 9:00 am. This place doesn’t get started quite as early as the Pickens Flea Market, but I still didn’t want to be there during the heat of the day. I found an excellent parking spot very close to the middle of things. That would actually prove to be a problem later.
I usually make these trips with Paul Wagenknecht, my flea market cohort. When someone new joins the Furman Chemistry Department we’ve used a field trip out here as an immersion experience for southern culture. Today, however, I was by myself. Paul and I normally start with the outdoor tables, because that’s where you find the “good stuff.” That was my first target today, as well.
Outdoor tables are cheap. For only $10 a day you can set up your own business. Once people did this instead of setting up a yard sale. The advantage is that you get more traffic, but the disadvantage is that you have to haul all your stuff over and set it up, then haul back what doesn’t sell.
There don’t seem to be any casual yard-sale type vendors left, though. Most of these folks are professionals with permanent spots staked out. The Jockey Lots has recognized this transition and now offers shipping crates for storage along the outside tables. Some of these vendors have even built their own shacks and add-ons for the tables.
The Jockey Lot remains a place to find the unusual, the stuff that mainstream stores just won’t sell. You can get healing oils, NASCAR memorabilia, questionable artwork, and even skull bowling balls.
Salvage grocery and pharmaceuticals can also be found in abundance. I can understand a cash-strapped family wanting to save some money, but I think I’d rather shop at a dollar shop rather than risk questionable products sitting out in the sun.
Heck, you can even get a gravestone here. There were two vendors selling engraved granite, one inside and one outside. The one outside had one of the most hideous pieces of carved granite I think I’ve ever witnessed.
The Jockey Lot is also a haven for questionable materials. There are all sorts of religious affiliations, both mainstream and fringe. Despite the presence of lots of cultures represented on the lot, there are also lots of racist overtones.
As I walked past the booth with the MAGA hats and Confederate flags these guys in the bottom photo were haggling over Nazi memorabilia. Seriously.
You do find this sort of stuff at any other flea market, including the Pickens Flea Market. However, there is an undercurrent of larceny here that I don’t feel in other places. There have been raids and arrests for stolen goods as well as counterfeit material. Former Anderson County Sheriff Gene Taylor (no relation) has been quoted as saying, “There are more stolen goods per square mile than [anywhere else] in South Carolina.”
Speaking of counterfeit goods, I found these beauties in one section of the market. Either Ralph Lauren is dyslexic, or these are just barely above the bar for counterfeits.
You could even find a Picasso poster described as “Original Art, Signed.” That, for only $20, is really a steal!
Then there’s the infamous “Animal Alley.” There was a time when you could get just about any kind of livestock here, including chickens, Guinea pigs, and roosters for cock fighting. Today, however, there were only puppies.
Most of the vendors claim to be legitimate. However, even if the vendors weren’t associated with “puppy mills” a survey conducted by the Humane Society (PDF) found problems.
At this market, our investigator found puppies in cages in the direct sun with no water. The investigator insisted on the spot that dogs be given water. The investigator also visited two of the dealers who sell at the Jockey Lot and found puppy mill conditions.
The name of this BBQ place on the Jockey Lot grounds speaks to the illicit activities often accompanying the animals sold here.
Fellow blogger and former WYFF journalist Brad Willis had this to say about the Jockey Lot…
U.S. 29’s centerpiece is the infamous Anderson Jockey Lot. Hell’s flea market spans 65 acres and can hold more than 2,000 vendors at one time. On any given weekend, tens of thousands of people walk through the outdoor sales circus. On offer? Everything from puppy mill dogs to counterfeit DVDs. Sure, there’s legit stuff for sale, too, and more of it than you will ever care to see. There is probably no better place in all of the Palmetto State to watch humanity. It’s a place both startling in its size and its gross disregard for anything normal.
Please don’t get me wrong. We are not better than the people of U.S. 29 or the denizens of the Jockey Lot. Where we might have gone to a few more college classes, they could almost certainly kill us in a knife fight and help us survive in the case of apocalypse. We are soft compared the people of the Jockey Lot. We survive on health insurance and organic food. They survive because they can find enough things to sell on a Saturday morning and can use that money to pick up some things from the Nut Hut.Rapid Eye Reality – Highway 29 Revisited
Yes, you can buy guns and ammunition at the Jockey Lot. This is limited to long guns, though. A friend and former neighbor works with ATF and pulled Jockey Lot duty on occasion. He said that as long as they were selling rifles and shot guns it was OK. However, if they ventured into handguns or exotic assault rifles then ATF got involved.
As I wandered through the grounds things seemed a bit…off. There didn’t seem to be the same level of activity that I’d seen. I remembered a musical instrument vendor on the far northern side of the Jockey Lot so I set off in that direction. I found vast wings of the interior space completely closed off.
Even in the spaces that were open there were large rows of unoccupied space.
There didn’t seem to be as many outdoor vendors, either. I don’t know if it’s the wrong time of year, but a sunny day in October seems to me like it would be perfect flea market weather. Perhaps the Jockey Lot is suffering from the same problems as other brick-and-mortar stores. Many of these items, even the oddball questionable stuff, is now available over the Internet.
Even so, I think there will always be a place for flea markets like the Jockey Lot, and I think that’s a good thing…to a point. Some people just don’t like to deal with established markets for whatever reason. Some are always looking for a bargain. As much as I might not agree with a particular group’s message or product, this gives them a forum. The problem comes when vendors try to skirt the edge of legality.
Here are a few more random photos from my trip to the Anderson Jockey Lot. These include some of the vendors and some of the more interesting products on display.
I did make one purchase. As I walked by one produce stand the smell of muscadines was overwhelming. I had to buy a couple of pints for $5. They were so sweet and good that it almost made up for any other bad thoughts I’d had about the day’s experience.
I was tired and ready to head home. I walked out the parking lot and wandered around quite a bit looking for my car. Turns out my parking spot was much more convenient than I had remembered and was much, much closer to the main buildings. I finally found it, and gladly made my escape.
In conclusion, the Anderson Jockey Lot serves a niche, but it’s a niche of dubious quality and authenticity. The “yard sale/swap meet” feeling of this flea market has been given over almost completely to permanent vendors, which is kind of sad. I’ll still make the occasional foray over to the Jockey Lot, but I much, much prefer the ambiance of the Pickens Flea Market.