You’ve probably heard the term “Flea Market” before. You may have even visited a flea market. But, unless you’re a garage-saling, thrift-storing, antiquing pro, you probably have questions about flea markets, what they are, and how they can help you save and make money.
While the name is a bit suspect on the surface, visiting flea markets can be an enjoyable pastime and a great way to find unique items at bargain deals. If you’re handy, you might even be able to make some money at flea markets as well.
Read on to learn all about flea markets, including the origin, types of flea markets, how you can make and save money, and why the term “flea” market.
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What is a Flea Market?
Put simply, a flea market is a type of street market in which vendors sell second-hand (or previously-used) merchandise. While you could sell almost anything at a flea market, items such as collectibles, vintage clothing, and antiques are the typical merchandise.
If you’re still having trouble visualizing a flea market, think of a Saturday market full of home-grown food and trinkets, but instead, the merchandise is antique, upcycled, or second-hand.
While initially, flea markets took place outside today, you can find them indoors or out depending on the weather and the venue.
You may also hear the term “Swap Meet” used interchangeably with flea market, although traditionally, a swap meet was where people would swap used items instead of buying them.
Thus, any market in which various vendors sell used items could be termed a flea market.
Why the Term “Flea Market?”
Outdoor markets selling various goods have existed for millennia, but the term flea market has relatively recent origins.
There are a few different theories, but the most popular is that flea market is a translation of the French term “marché aux puces,” meaning “market of the fleas.” The term was first used in stories about a market in Paris in the 1860s known as the marché aux puces.
As you probably guessed, this label results from the used items supposedly containing fleas, as fleas were common during this period.
Another theory suggests that the origin of the flea market refers not to pesky bugs but rather the homophone flee. This story says that changes to street and building designs forced second-hand dealers to flee their old dwellings and that the resulting outdoor market consisting of stalls became the marché aux puces or flea market.
While there is likely truth to both stories, the translated spelling and the commonality of fleas inhabiting clothing and furniture of the time seems to suggest an itchier origin.
Regardless, you can be sure that modern-day flea markets are free of small livestock and a great place to find a host of treasures.
Types of Flea Markets
Flea markets have adapted and changed over time and have remained remarkably consistent in their existence as we’ve moved into the modern age.
There are two main ways to categorize flea markets: frequency and location.
First, flea markets can either be more permanent or seasonal. The more formal, permanent markets can be found throughout the year and keep regular hours similar to any other business. Formal flea markets tend to have consistent vendors who make flea market buying and selling their business or a consistent side hustle.
The more casual, seasonal markets will pop up for a set period during specific seasons, usually existing for a shorter period like a weekend. Some of these markets may occur on a monthly or less frequent basis as well. Vendors at these markets typically reserve a spot for the duration of the market but may not make flea markets their primary business.
Additionally, flea markets can be categorized by their location.
As mentioned, originally, flea markets were open-air or outdoors. However, modern flea markets can take place indoors, outdoors, and, more recently, online.
Online flea markets have grown in popularity because they offer convenience to both buyers and sellers. Buyers can shop without needing to be in the same location and brave the weather or walk long distances. For sellers, they save time moving and setting up items and stalls and the time sitting in the stalls waiting for potential buyers.
Whether you enjoy the experience of walking the stalls or the convenience of shopping without leaving your home, the good news is there is now a flea market perfect for your shopping habits.
How to Make and Save Money at Flea Markets
Many people look to save or make money by buying and selling on Craigslist and Craigslist alternatives like Etsy, but flea markets can also be a great way to make or save some money.
Making Money as a Vendor
If you’re talented at crafts, upcycling, or a frequent garage-saler or antiquer, then you might consider operating a booth at a flea market as a vendor.
Unlike opening a formal thrift store or antique business, flea markets present a low barrier to entry for you to test out your new venture. While you will need a few items to get started (like a table, cashbox, transaction software, tent, etc.), the overall costs are meager. One of the main costs will be the booth rental fee you’ll need to pay to reserve your spot. Contact the markets you’re interested in to compare booth rental fees.
Depending on your location and the items you’re selling, flea market vendors can likely make all their expenses back in sales and potentially turn a nice profit. Many flea market vendors make between $200 and $500 a day.
And the best part about selling at flea markets is that it is incredibly flexible. You can start at a casual flea market if you need to get rid of items. Or maybe you want to try your hand at flea market flipping. You could graduate to a permanent market if you find you have a good eye for merchandise and wish to make flea markets a consistent side hustle or main business.
Saving Money as a Buyer
On the other hand, flea markets also represent an opportunity to find treasures and unique items, often for less than you would pay at a department store. Just the fact that you're buying used will likely save you money.
Many enjoy browsing flea markets as a pastime, but others go to flea markets specifically looking for items for their home, gifts, or wants/needs. Vendors also take advantage of buying cheap or items to use in upcycling for their flea market stalls.
One unique thing about flea markets is the ability to haggle. Haggling is when the buyer and seller negotiate the price of the item until both agree. Buyers will often make an offer on an item, to which the seller can either accept or counter the offer. Because of the ability to make offers and haggle, buyers can often get items for less than the listed price.
Here are a few tips for shopping at flea markets to help you have a successful outing:
- Wear comfortable shoes: you’ll be doing a lot of walking
- Dress casually: you don’t want to give the impression that you have lots of money as sellers will be less likely to haggle with you
- Always haggle: always make an offer on the item and see if you can get it for less than the asking price
- Bring cash: many flea market vendors have the means to take card payments, but many only take cash
- Make a shopping list: if you’re looking for specific items, make sure you make a list so you can focus on finding those items
- Look for things to repurpose: you can get great deals on old chairs and other items you can easily repurpose or upcycle
Best Flea Markets in the U.S.
Most flea markets you’ll find locally are relatively small and seasonal. Still, there are many large and more permanent flea markets famous throughout the U.S. If flea markets are your thing, be sure to check out this top 10 list compiled by Flea Market Insiders when you’re in town.
- 127 Corridor Sale – Addison, Michigan
- First Monday Trade Days – Canton, Texas
- Brimfield – Brimfield, Massachusetts
- Scott Antique Market – Atlanta, Georgia
- Rose Bowl Flea Market – Pasadena, California
- Springfield Antique Show and Flea Market Extravaganza – Springfield, Ohio
- Brooklyn Flea – Brooklyn, New York
- Mile High Flea Market – Henderson, Colorado
- Texas Antique Weekend – Round Top, Texas
- Rogers Flea Market – Rogers, Ohio
Finding a Flea Market Near You
If you’re not in or near one of the towns mentioned in the top 10 list, don’t fret because there are sure to be several flea markets in your local area you can visit. Most major cities have at least one flea market option, and many smaller towns have seasonal or semi-regular markets. You could even turn your outing into a day trip or road trip by visiting a flea market in another city.
A quick Google search of either “flea market near me” or “flea market in (your location)” will give you a list of flea markets in your local area. Also, keep an eye on social media or news outlets for mentions of local flea markets as they pop up.
Even if there isn’t a convenient flea market near you, remember that there are an increasing number of online flea markets that you can peruse as well.
Some of the top online flea markets include:
- TIAS (The Internet Antique Shop)
- Ruby Lane
Also, you can check out this list of Craigslist alternatives where you can buy and sell new and used items, although the above sites most closely fit the bill of an online flea market.
One person’s used is another person’s vintage, and there is no better place to find vintage, antique, and second-hand treasures than a flea market.
While flea markets have been around in one form or another for centuries, the traditional open-air flea market appears to take its origins from an outdoor stall market in Paris known as the “market of fleas.” Luckily, modern-day flea markets are sans fleas and can be indoor, outdoor, or online.
Whether you’re a regular flea market flipper, or an occasional vendor looking for some quick cash, specific items (or just browsing the stalls), flea markets offer a range of opportunities for buying and selling unique items and are a great way to spend a warm afternoon.
Check out a flea market near you and get started collecting treasures.