Here comes the Gypsy Caravan | St. Louis Public Radio

Here comes the Gypsy Caravan

May 20, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: This year' 36th annual Gypsy Caravan marks a kind of homecoming for Belleville antiques dealers Al and Jeannine Meinen, as the giant Memorial Day crafts and antiques market returns to the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus after a seven-year hiatus.

"It's always a lot of fun," said Al Meinen, who with his wife, has sold vintage furniture and other primitives at 20 Gypsy Caravan events. "We certainly sell, but we're always buying too, always looking," he said. "And we love visiting with people from all over the country."

This year's event is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, May 26, on the eastern edge of the campus in north St. Louis County. Admission is $5 for persons aged 12 and over; children under 12 are free.

Early birds who want to get a head start on the bargain hunting can enter the festival grounds as early as 7 a.m., at a ticket price of $20 each.

The event hopes to raise between $130,000 and $150,000 this year, with all proceeds going to help support the St. Louis Symphony's educational and community outreach activities.

Len Bull, who directs the work of some 175 volunteers who operate the caravan, said the symphony is "thrilled" to be back at UMSL. The festival, which began at Northwest Plaza, underwent phenomenal growth during its 22-year run at the old St. Louis Arena on Oakland Avenue. Between 1995 and last year, it moved four times--from the Arena, to the UMSL campus, to Saint Louis University and, eventually, to the western edge of downtown near Union Station, where it had settled for the last four years.

Bull said the fair was forced out of downtown when businesses in the area began moving to more 7-day-a-week flex time schedules, resulting in a need for weekend parking in the areas set aside for the festival.

He said the caravan left UMSL in 2000 because of construction work on the campus but said officials were enthusiastic about getting the event back to the university.

For those who remember long, winding rows of vendors spread out over hilly terrain at the UMSL location, Bull notes that the vending area this year will be on largely flat ground and vendors will be in a more concentrated area.

One drawback, he acknowledged, is that there will be no inside vending area. Earlier markets at UMSL used the university's gymnasium for indoor dealers.

"We've looked for locations where (inside vendor space) would be feasible, but it just isn't in our current configuration, unfortunately."

The Meinens, who returned recently from a large show near Austin, Texas, said it is always good to set up at a show close to home, without concerns over high gasoline prices.

While Al Meinen still is nostalgic about the old days at the Arena, "where it was easier to load in and out" and where "we spent the day before barbecuing," he expects the UMSL event to be a good one.

As always, organizers, dealers and attendees are worried about the weather. Two years ago, Bull said, attendance dipped as a result of an "extremely hot" show day. Al Meinen said he remembers one year when a storm "tore our tent up pretty bad, but in the morning, it cleared off and it turned out to be a pretty good market."

Some 350 dealers from 15 states -- selling everything from birdhouses to quilts to antique toys -- are expected to attend the caravan.

As for the future of the caravan, Bull said he hopes it can remain at UMSL "for some time to come."

Click here for more information on the Gypsy Caravan or call 314-286-4452.