It’s 3:30 a.m. and my parents are waking up my siblings and I for another day at the flea market. That’s how our mornings started every weekend for 5 years – wake up, get dressed and help pack any last items before heading off to the flea market. Around 5 a.m., we found ourselves in a long line of cars waiting for the gates to open. After entering the gates and paying for a designated space, the unloading began. With our items arranged on tables and the ground, we were ready for a day of sales. All those years at the flea market helped pay for food and the bills, as well as help my siblings and I earn some money so we can buy items we like.
A flea market has the same benefits that a thrift store offers. Both are environmentally friendly by reducing waste, and provide unique affordable items and support to communities. I’ve experienced being both a flea market vendor and a buyer and I have also had shopping experiences at thrift stores. From both experiences, I’ve learned that a flea market is more beneficial than a thrift store due to the greater impact it has overall.
A majority of flea market vendors reduce waste by selling second-hand items which they get from buying cheap off of garage, yard, and estate sales, as well as buying from auctions, buying and trading goods from each other, or the piles of items people throw away at annual street clean-ups. Since vendors buy their items cheaper than they sell them they can make a profit.
Over the years, my family and I have chosen to live in a frugal way. While shopping at thrift stores, we found that although prices are cheaper than at regular retail stores, flea markets continue to have better options. In addition, vendors at flea markets get their items from different places which increases the chances of finding something valuable and unique to take home.
Even local small businesses take time to showcase their unique products to the community and earn an income. Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed the effort my parents and vendors put into choosing good items to sell to the community. At a thrift store, I always felt that there was no thought behind putting the items up for sale.
Another reason why I prefer to shop at a flea market rather than a thrift store is because, rather than assuming where your money goes, you know where it ends up. According to the National Flea Market Association, there are approximately 2.25 million flea market vendors and over 1,100 flea markets in the United States, creating the opportunity to support a greater number of vendors. According to IBISWorld’s Thrift Stores Industry in the US market research report, there are 122,335 thrift store employees. From all of the nonprofit thrift stores, it’s hard to tell whether the money you used to buy items went to the salaries of employees, charity, or the pockets of the higher-ups.
The majority of vendors at a flea market are people of color who create a schedule that allows them to sell and earn an income to provide for themselves or their families. Unlike thrift stores, you get to see the people you are helping face to face; some vendors are parents, some are students, some are keeping the family business alive, and sometimes you can even see the whole family at the flea market. You are directly supporting a hard-working community of people by buying from a flea market, while also building relationships with vendors. For example, I buy a lot of my clothing from a specific vendor who sometimes goes as far as bringing my favorite style of clothing and then giving me a great price.
Flea markets help create traditions or memories in families who, like mine, have spent multiple weekends selling or buying from vendors. Not only that but such experiences were sometimes child-like fantasies that came true with seemingly endless lanes of eye-catching items. At some flea markets, you can also find food trucks that make the experience much more enjoyable. It’s one of the reasons why I love flea markets so much: the experience. Experience that thrift stores can’t compete with.
Although payments for entrance and parking have to be made when visiting different flea markets, you can rest assured that the money you give to a vendor goes straight to them and their family’s future. With some flea markets closing down, due to being bought or insufficient funds, it’s a great time to go to the nearest one and have a wonderful experience while supporting good people.