Everything you need to know about the Shipshewana Flea Market

Explore the vibrant Shipshewana Flea Market in Indiana's Amish country with our comprehensive guide.

Each week between May and September, about ten- to twelve-thousand people flock to the tiny town of Shipshewana, Indiana. While there, they might take in a show. They’ll probably eat some Amish peanut butter. They’ll definitely see horse-drawn buggies, women in bonnets, and men wearing straw hats.

And they’ll go shopping at the Shipshewana Flea Market.

The Midwest’s largest flea market has been a destination for over a century. Today it’s part of Shipshewana Trading Place, a sprawling collection of businesses dedicated to bringing buyers and sellers together.

With nearly 700 vendors, the number of people working the market exceeds the town’s population. The number of people attending exceeds the population of many Midwestern towns.

Why is this flea market such a big draw? Why do so many people come from not only all over the Midwest, but all over the country, to shop at a flea market?

The short story is that it’s a high quality market with a huge variety of goods, great food, and a longstanding history.

I visited the market on a Wednesday morning, arriving early enough to see the chaos that is the Shipshewana auction. Then I walked up and down the aisles of vendors. For hours. I think I got my steps for the entire week in one morning.

There may be affiliate links in this post, which means we may get a small commission. It’s at no extra cost to you and helps keep TLT free. Everybody wins!

People watching at Shipshewana Flea Market

The people watching alone is grand. You’re in Indiana Amish Country, so there are Amish and Mennonites at the market. There are also those thousands of people, and they come from every walk of life.

The scents are mouth-watering (once you get far enough away from the livestock barn). Fresh-baked pretzels, kettle corn, fudge, barbecued chicken – it’s enough to make my mouth water just remembering it.

Visually, it’s like trying to focus on Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte when you’re standing too close. There’s simply too much to make sense of it all.

A patio table that spins like a lazy susan? (Which is brilliant, by the way.) Suits of armor? Antique meat grinders and a cape that looks like a cow?

You can buy it all at the Shipshewana Flea Market.

Hate ads? Want to read this without interruption? Become an official Local Tourist – only $5/month on Substack! Click here to sign up.

Suits of armor for sale at the Shipshewana Flea Market, the Midwest's Largest Flea Market
This suit of armor can be yours for $299
Antique meat grinder at Shipshewana Flea Market
My mom used to make ham salad with a meat grinder just like this.

The Story of the Shipshewana Flea Market

The earliest recorded use of the term flea market is 1922. Coincidentally (or not), that’s the date the Shipshewana Flea Market began.

Technically, one of the best flea markets in the United States didn’t start in 1922, but it can trace its beginnings to that date. That’s when George Curtis held his first livestock auction. He sold six pigs, seven cows, and several head of young cattle.

That modest beginning became a weekly affair that continues to this day.

After that first sale, the auction continued to grow. After eight years, Curtis decided people would want to eat, so he turned his garage into a restaurant. Women from the Methodist Church would come over each week and cook for those hungry buyers and sellers. 

A decade later, Milo and Ruth Miller took over the feeding responsibilities. Before they could even get started, they’d have to back Curtis’s car out of the garage, tidy it up, and then set up their equipment.

Ruth brought home-baked pies, fresh from her own oven, and vegetables fresh from her garden. Diners could get burgers for twenty cents and top them with her homemade catsup.

In 1947, Curtis sold the auction to Fred Lambright. With the auction came a pop-up flea market. People showed up for the auction with cars full of stuff to sell. They’d pop their trunks and the exchange would begin.

That same year, Lambright built a roof for the market, but people continued to sell out of their cars.

All these people needed to eat, and they outgrew the garage. In 1950, Lambright opened the Auction Restaurant, which could seat up to sixty people.

The Shipshewana auction was sold for a third time in 1961 when Walter Schrock bought it. By this time, people were no longer selling out of their cars. It was a bona fide flea market, and he expanded it to 400 vendors.

Sign pointing to the flea market

During Schrock’s tenure, he also built the Antique Auction Building, which is where the Shipshewana Miscellaneous and Antique Auction is held every Wednesday. He had to rebuild the livestock auction barn after a fire destroyed the original.

Schrock owned the auction, flea market, and restaurant for twenty years before selling it to Fred Lambright’s son. Robert Lambright expanded the outdoor flea market to a whopping 1000 spaces, opened a new sit-down restaurant, and built an office building. 

That many vendors, plus the crowds searching for bargains, or that perfect item, needed a place to stay. In 1997, Lambright opened the Farmstead Inn. Located directly across the street from the flea market, it’s the most convenient accommodation for vendors and buyers.

TLTip: Just up the street is the Shipshewana Visitors Center. Make sure you stop in and see all the other things to do in Shipshewana.

From 1998 to 2017, shoppers could look for classic pieces at the Shipshewana Antique Mall. The building is now the Farmstead Expo Barn and is primarily used for special events and auctions.

Today, the little auction that Curtis started and Schrock and the Lambrights built is the Midwest’s Largest Flea Market.

Fred’s grandson Keith Lambright runs it all.

What should you expect at the Shipshewana Flea Market?

With 700 vendors, it’s one of the biggest flea markets in the country. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer number and variety of choices.

There’s everything from perfume to home décor to wooden flamingos. There’s a farmer’s market selling fresh produce. There are vintage items, handmade items, collectibles, and antique furniture.

Vintage items at the Shipshewana Flea Market

Fortunately, you can see the vendors online and plan your adventure. They’ve also got various “trails” so you can focus on specific types of merchandise.

A fun trail is the “Flea Bag Trail.” This scavenger hunt challenges you to visit specific vendors, locate the sign (hint: it’s by the cash registers), and count the number of fleas. You’ll jot that number down and the vendor will punch your card. Visit all of them, and you’ll get a souvenir bag.

Flea Bag Trail
Counting the fleas on the Flea Bag Trail
Souvenir bag from the flea bag trail

Another fun thing to do is mine for gems. The Gem Mining Sluice is near the entrance.

Related: Continue your shopping at Davis Mercantile in downtown Shipshewana

Tips for visiting Shipshewana Flea Market

The Shipshewana Flea Market runs from 8 am to 4 pm, and you could spend the entire day at this bargain hunters’ paradise.

Whether that’s your plan or you just want to browse for a couple of hours, here are some tips for making the most out of your experience.

Happy vendors at the Shipshewana Flea Market

Wear comfy shoes. At over 40 acres, this open-air market is huge. 

Bring cash. While some vendors take credit cards, some do not. The split’s about fifty-fifty.

Come prepared for the weather. The market is rain or shine, and since this is northern Indiana, you’ll want to be ready for both. Pack all of these, just in case:

  • Umbrella
  • Poncho
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses (or, you can buy some there!)
  • Hat
  • Cash (see above)
  • Extra bags
  • Cooler in your car for any cold food purchases
  • Water bottle

You could also bring a wagon to make carrying your goodies easier. If you don’t have one, you can rent one.

Shoppers with mobility issues can rent electric scooters. 

Another thing to note is that, while Shipshewana Flea Market offers free admission, parking is $5, and it’s cash only.

TLTip: make your first stop the Information Booth near the main entrance to get a map. You can also print one from their website.

Where to Eat at Shipshewana Flea Market

Shopping builds up an appetite. Fortunately, Shipshewana Flea Market has several options.

There’s the Auction Restaurant, located by the entrance gate off of SR 5. Mrs. Miller may not be baking pies any more, but the dessert is still a staple.

So is that Indiana favorite, the breaded pork tenderloin, and their sandwich is on the Indiana Tenderloin Lovers Trail. (The Hoosier state is serious about its breaded pork tenderloin.)

Breaded Tenderloin at the Auction Restaurant
This former Hoosier loves her breaded pork tenderloin

Within the market are several conveniently-placed food courts. These are in covered pavilions with picnic tables. There will often be live music, so you can get some entertainment with your ice cream, Port-A-Pit® Chicken Strips, and Pit-Tatoes™.

There are also food trucks and several food vendors, including Ben’s Pretzels, Shipshewana Sweets & Treats, and Hoosier Banquets. You can pick up some delicious Amish peanut butter at that last one.

If you attend the Shipshewana Auction on Wednesday mornings, you can fill up at the Auction Barn Snack Bar.

Model airplanes and model ship at the Shipshewana Auction

Shipshewana Flea Market FAQs

When is the Shipshewana Flea Market?

The flea market is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from May through September, with occasional special events and themed weekends.

What kinds of auctions are held?

There are livestock and horse auctions in addition to the Miscellaneous and Antiques Auction. These auctions are open year-round.

Check their calendar for specific dates and for any upcoming events.

Is the flea market open on any weekends?

There’s typically a June market weekend and an August market weekend. They’re also open on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends.

Shipshewana Mural.
Seated: Amy Psinas, the artist of the Shipshewana mural

Is there a charge to get in?

Entrance to the Shipshewana Flea Market is free. Visitors can explore the various stalls and vendors without any entry fee. Parking is $5.

What can I find at the market?

Vendors at the flea market offer a wide range of products, including antiques, crafts, fresh seasonal produce, clothing, accessories, and unique trinkets. Specialty items are also commonly found.

Can I find good bargains?

Absolutely. The vendors charge reasonable prices, and some items are a downright steal. 

Flamingos on sale with sign saying "Yes, they are only $20"

Are credit cards accepted?

Many vendors at the flea market accept credit cards, although some may prefer cash. It is advisable to carry some cash to ensure a smooth shopping experience.

Can I bring my dog?

Sure! Just keep Fido leashed and clean up any messes.

Is this an outdoor or indoor flea market?

The Shipshewana Flea Market is primarily an outdoor market, providing an open-air shopping experience. However, many vendors are in buildings or have tents. There are also a few indoor booths at the Antique Auction Building.

Always be thankful pillow

Where is Shipshewana?

Shipshewana is located in northern Indiana. It’s about two hours from Toledo, a little over two hours from Chicago, two and a half hours from Lafayette, and about three hours from Indianapolis, making it an easy day trip from any of these cities.

Show Me Shipshewana

Are you ready to plan a visit to Shipshewana? Then you’ll need Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country.

Show Me Shipshewana book cover mockup with pen, notebook, glasses, and headphones

Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country invites you to step away from the frenzied pace of day-to-day life. You’re invited to relax. To eat (a lot). To enjoy connecting with your loved ones, with nature, and with yourself. 

Show Me Shipshewana is more than a travel book; it’s a companion that invites you to experience the third largest Amish community in the world and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Available September 15, 2023. Reserve your copy today and you’ll be planning your Shipshewana getaway!

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00