MORRIS – It began as a humble way to help raise money for charity. It still is, but the Junk in the Trunk Flea Market has grown into a Morris institution, something that people look forward to each year and where people come from long distances to see.
Ken Willis of Morris started the event in October 2009. He was a member of the Citizens Police in Morris for 18 years, and served as president and vice president at various times.
“We were always looking for ways to raise money for that,” he said.
“I had a couple people tell me ‘You should start up a flea market. We need a flea market in Morris.’ ”
Willis said he thought it was a good idea.
“They’re so much fun to go to,”
He said he enjoys going to garage sales, as do a lot of his friends, and back when he started Junk in the Trunk gas cost about $4 a gallon. This was a way to have the garage sales come to one place so people didn’t have to drive around for them.
He had several charities he wanted to support; besides the Citizens Police, he works with the Grundy County Historical Society, and he wanted to give to the American Cancer Society because his daughter is a cancer survivor.
Willis said he discussed the idea with Mayor Richard Kopczick, who Willis said has been supportive of the entire project from the start.
“Whatever brings people into Morris, he was telling me,” Willis said.
At the end of the summer in 2009, he said he had 15 vendors signed up for the first Junk in the Trunk event. It’s grown since then: the busiest event in 2017 had 75 vendors, Willis said.
“I’d been praying about this awhile,” he said. “I wanted to bring people together. I think it’s something that’s been lost in our society. ... What I see at the Junk in the Trunk is people coming together. And they talk. And they laugh. ... They’re just having so much fun and a lot of them become friends.”
The way the flea market works is that vendors pay $10 for a spot at the market, approximately the size of two parking spaces. Willis said he doesn’t break out the tape measure anymore, although he used to. The $10 is how Junk in the Trunk raises its money and that goes to the charity chosen for that month.
Willis said he hasn’t kept track of what he’s raised for charity since the event began, but he guessed around $3,000 per year, based on average attendance at the markets.
The event has gained some notoriety. Other groups have wanted to use the name for their own fundraisers, while others have wanted to work with him. Events have been held in Dwight and Gardner and one will be in Chatsworth this year.
In 2016, there was even some national exposure after Minooka native Nick Offerman went on the Late Show with Steven Colbert and the event was featured on the Community Calendar skit of the program.
Willis said it was inaccurate but thought it was funny and he was glad for the PR.
He remembered certain stories: The woman came and didn’t have the money for the entry fee at first because she had to put gas in her minivan to make it to the flea market.
But by the end of the afternoon, she had the money. Another vendor who used to come to all of the events stopped coming. Willis said he saw him shopping one day and asked where he went.
“He said, ‘I sold all my stuff,’ ” Willis said.
There was the vendor who sold chocolate Labs at $400 apiece, and sold all four of them before the event was over.
Willis has a few rules: No clothes, because serious shoppers won’t come if there are clothes flapping in the wind. No commercial vendors or at-home businesses. No mass-produced or bulk products allowed.
Willis credited longtime friend Floyd Clark in helping put the event together, too. Clark has been out at most of the events with Willis.
“I think it’s a real service to the people that participate,” Clark said. “And don’t underestimate the amount of work that he puts in.”
Willis said that he only had a couple of goals with the project.
“I wanted to bring people together. I wanted to raise money for charities,” he said.
Junk in the Trunk takes place
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month from April to October.
It is held in the parking lot of the shopping center behind Walgreen’s off Route 47.