Bob Wilkins brandishes one of his many exotic but highly affordable treasures. Photo: Krisa Bruemmer, KP News

The Key Peninsula Swap Meet kicked off its ninth year in May and will run through the end of August in front of Lake Kathryn Village.

Bob Wilkins, the host who took over from former hosts Joe and Stephanie Zambini two years ago, said the swap meet began as “three or four of us that didn’t want to have a garage sale at our house.”

“It’s grown quite a bit,” Wilkins said. “Now we get all the traffic going by that sees the tents so they know what’s going on.”

“We’ve got 20 regular vendors that buy a season pass,” he said. “That commits them to the 16 weeks we’re open during the summer, at quite a reduced rate actually.”

Wilkins said people often ask why there is a charge to set up at the swap meet. “For our convenience and the customers, we have a port-a-potty over by the tree there. So that’s a monthly fee.” Wilkins said additional costs include rent paid to Don Zimmerman, who owns the complex, liability insurance, overnight security and a Pierce County permit. “I need about two to three thousand dollars before we even open.”

At 6 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, Wilkins opens the gate and vendors trickle in, driving jam-packed cars and trucks, some towing trailers. One vendor unloads items from an old school bus. In the hours leading up to 9 a.m. when the swap meet opens, tables and blankets fill to overflowing with guitars, glassware, old coins, jewelry, animal skulls, antiques, trinkets and treasures.

Artworks and artifacts await the intrepid swap meet connoisseur. Photo: Krisa Bruemmer, KP News

“My big seller is what I call rusty gold. It’s yard art that’s rusty,” Wilkins said. “And I get odd things and people buy them. They like odd things.” Wilkins buys stuff at garage sales to resell and sells items from his own collection. “I’ve got 5 acres with a 1920 farmhouse on it and I’ve been there since ’82, so over the years I’ve collected stuff and I bring it down here. People my age come through my booth and they go, ‘I remember that…’. I had a copper wash tub, a scooter from the 30s. Every tool you can imagine.”

“Here’s the oddball stuff,” he said, holding up a wooden paddle with “Parrothead” carved across it and a realistic human skull attached to the handle. “You know Jimmy Buffet, right?”

“For me it’s for fun,” Wilkins said. “I mean, after nine years, we’re a family. We call each other up and we help each other set up our tents and everything. We’re all retired, those of us that have been here a long time, so it’s something to do on the weekends. Keeps us out of trouble.”

Bill Luke carves art from salvaged wood and stone. “The neighbors chopped down some cedar trees and they said, ‘If you want them, you better get them out of here because they’re going in the burn pile,’ ” he said.

Pointing at a tall carved bear priced at $325, Luke said, “This is one of them here. By the time I’m done, I’ve probably got about three bucks an hour.”

At Our Closet, a mobile clothing shop run by Leslie Mays, “People can pick up a pair of kids’ shoes for five bucks,” said Mays’s mom, Susi Morgan, who sells LuLaRoe clothing one stall over. “Leslie gets secondhand clothes, and some of it’s even brand new with tags on it, then she’s able to sell it to people at a good price.”

Earlier in the season, Wilkins donated a space to local Boy Scout Troop 220. “The whole troop’s dads cleaned out their garages,” Wilkins said. “They raised $1,000 in one day.”

“I like to keep six or so spots for the KP people that want to do something on the weekends instead of having a garage sale at their house,” Wilkins said. “I had an opportunity to fill up with Star Lite drive-in transferees but to me, this is a community garage sale, and a swap meet. And I want to keep it community.”

“Anybody that needs a space,” Wilkins said, “I’ll find space for them.”

The Key Peninsula Swap meet is in Lake Kathryn Village. Open Saturdays 9 to 5 and Sundays 9 to 3 through August 25. 

Editor’s note: Bob Wilkins is a member of the KP News Publishing Board.

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