TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATHAN CHESKY
Luther Barrentine lives in Candler and has retired after 30 years of selling tarps, flags and anything else he can make a buck or two on. These days he has shaken things up, spending his retirement at Smiley’s Flea Market casually selling tarps, flags and anything else he can make a buck or two on. Barrentine spoke with me on a windy November morning while sitting in the sunshine just a few feet from the roar of passing cars on Hendersonville Road.
Barrentine sets up at a group of tables every day of the week with a conglomeration of flags flying above, beside and inside a massive canopy he has constructed. As well as housing the rest of his inventory, his canopy is, in fact, for sale. Heavy gusts of wind continue to toss around his assortment of hats, beanies and umbrellas, and propel all of his flags to fly strong and proud, and push us under his largest canopy.
Here we discussed the culture of buying and selling at markets, as well as the changes and challenges of selling outside through the years. Spending this much time outside, through every season and weather pattern imaginable, Barrentine is definitely the man to come to for all the gear you would need to be someone like Barrentine.
Some musicians make music mainly only other musicians appreciate. Some chefs definitely awe other chefs. Barrentine is a pickers’ picker. If you want to set up at a table at Smiley’s, and do it right and comfortably, visit his canopy first. Barrentine is often the first and, depending on the day of the week, perhaps only booth you’ll see when arriving at Smiley’s Flea Market.
Nathan: How long have you been selling out here at Smiley’s?
Luther: I have been out here in this spot for about six months now.
Nathan: Why did you choose Smiley’s?
Luther: I live in Candler. I get to be out here every day of the week and sell.
Nathan: Today is a cold 45-degree morning and this wind is something fierce. Will you stay out here all year long?
Luther: I sure will. All year-round. Every day.
Nathan: To be honest it was the flags that drew me in here. They’re hard to miss from the road. Did business pick up when the Confederate flag debate was fresh this past summer?
Luther: Yeah! Yeah, it did pick up … for a while. It has slowed back down now. They sold for more for a while there. People still want their Confederate flags, though.
Nathan: I can imagine. How much is a Confederate flag? How much is an American Flag?
Luther: I sell those American Flags for just $5. The Confederate flags are $20. The Gadsden flags are $20 as well.
Nathan: What did you do before you started selling out here? Are you retired?
Luther: Well I’ve been doing this for 30 years, but I am drawing Social Security. But I am back out here selling anything I can buy and sell. I’m known for around WNC for my canopies and flags, so people know where to find me.
Nathan: How has selling changed in your 30-plus years in the business? Is it easier now or more difficult to compete?
Luther: You know, not too much… Actually, it’s nice, you know? I just have to pay rent to Smiley’s but I use this square for my phone (to accept credit and debit card payments). It works good. As a matter of fact, it’s a great program. It’s very simple. You just get set up — this costs $10 — and they even reimburse you that. I think it’s a great deal. I tried taking credit cards before, and I did the machine. Back then, I mean gosh, it was a few hundred dollars just for that machine.
Nathan: So, these days, taking cards is a necessity, even at flea markets?
Luther: We are living in an age when people tote cards, they don’t tote cash. If you don’t take cards, you are going to lose sales. I’ve gained a lot of sales by switching over to cards.
Nathan: Well, Luther, thanks so much for your time, good luck out here with the wind, I’ll see you around the markets.
Luther: No problem. I am here every day, come by anytime.