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Storms blast flea market shoppers, vendors

ST. CHARLES – Severe thunderstorms bringing torrential rain, high wind and hail blasted through Geneva, St. Charles and Batavia Sunday afternoon, bringing reports of downed power lines and trees.

And in what would normally have been an uneventful day of bargain hunting at the Kane County Flea Market quickly turned into terror as frightened vendors and shoppers ducked for cover. 

Tent canopies covering the goods of outdoor vendors were shredded, many of their aluminum poles bent and twisted. Pieces of broken pottery and glass figurines, dishes and ceramics littered the ground while antique paper goods and wood furniture got soaked.

The wind was so powerful, it blew down iron lawn sculptures and even the metal garbage barrels in the fairgrounds parking lot. The storm started shortly after noon, finally stopping around 1:30 p.m.

Pat Barton of Fargo, North Dakota, was selling soft-tipped bows and arrows for a children's yard game when the storm hit. She and her husband were soaked to the skin as they struggled to save their tents and goods.

"I had customers," Barton said. "Then it got dark and windy and we stood out there and hung on for dear life to our canopies, trying not to lose all of our products and the tents. Then the hail started and I was yelling for my husband to just let the tent go – let it go I didn't care – and he said, 'Just a few more minutes, Baby, just a few more minutes.' And we managed to hang on to everything …. We got lucky this time."

With rainwater dripping from her hair, Barton said she was ready for a hot shower and to dry out her products.

Severe weather is something traveling vendors take in stride she said.

"We'll be back next month," Barton said. "Same time, same place, but hopefully not the same weather."

Taking cover with the luckier but equally frightened indoor vendors was Josh Rominski and Joanne Luckey, both of Elgin.

"We just went shopping for antiques," Rominski said, holding a bag and a sun face metal sculpture. "It's hectic. Crazy out there. I feel bad for the vendors outside."

Margaret Kubic of Streamwood had hoped to find nice things to buy, but had to dodge the storm.

"And then the God sent the rain to show us He's the power," Kubic said.

Tara Zinger of Oak Park said she drove out for a fun Sunday afternoon of shopping.

"It was beautiful in Oak Park when we left," Zinger said. "We pulled into the parking lot and the sky was dark. We just thought it would blow over, came in, started wandering around and the wind started. The poor vendors, the wind started knocking everything over so we were helping some people not lose all of their merchandise and then we headed inside."

Marlies Stipek of Schaumburg had her purchases of crystal and beer steins safely covered and being carried in a wheeled cart.

"We were outside and almost got hit by the tents that were blowing around," Stipek.

Nancy Hanley from Minooka had her daughter's Chihuahua Lola with her when the storm hit.

"My daughter is visiting from Las Vegas," Hanley said, holding the trembling dog close. "She's [Lola] never experienced anything like this …. Her little heart was beating pretty fast. We had just arrived and saw at the dark, ominous sky and decided to take cover. Thankfully, we picked a good spot so we were safe and dry."

Polly and Steve Hood of Rockford were still making sales of their vintage merchandise despite the weather. Cindy Bale of Buffalo Grove, wet from the storm, was buying a small table for her house.

"And then it started to rain and it got frightening," Bale said.

"So many of the vendors pulled together and helped each other," Polly Hood said. "And there were elderly people here and they were helping them to make sure they did not slip."

As shoppers and vendors watched the rain, the downpour hitting the tin roof of the outbuilding created a thunderous roar inside the building.

"Oh we're having a blast," said Gayle Almeter of Naperville, shouting to be heard over the noise. "This is an exciting moment. I was actually thinking of buying a bird with a tin house as a reminder of standing under this tin roof. I'm looking for the good side."

Though they were dry inside, Mary and John Heneghan of Naperville, who sell hand-painted vintage signs, were packing up. Would-be shoppers were more interested in when the rain would let up so they could leave.

"It came up on everybody real sudden," Mary Heneghan said. "I feel sorry for the vendors outside, it was really bad. For today – we're done. I've been coming here for 10 years and this is the worst weather we've ever had."

After the rain stopped, the cleanup and inventory of broken items began and the die-hard shoppers who had not fled began looking for things to buy again.

Kevin James of St. Charles said he lost about $1,000 worth of antiques in the storm.

"Three full tables full … stuff that is irreplaceable," James said. "I called it. 'You don't have to worry about the rain, here comes the wind.' About five minutes after that, that's when we all took cover. We were housed in our trailer and shaking pretty good."

Jeff Rose of St. Charles had about five tables of glass figurines outside.

"It came in really fast and we started putting everything away," Rose said. "We lost some stuff …. Everybody paid the price. At one point, you couldn't even see across the street."

Bruce Richards lost his tent and tent poles, but by gosh, his Richards Rockery collection of $5-apiece rocks were unmoved.

"The tent is a loss and all the poles are bent," Richards said. "But I did not lose one rock."

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