Flea Markets And You

I’ve long been a fan of the flea market scene. Much like the whole pageantry of yard sales, the flea market is one of the last great holdouts of open market business left in these United of States. A throwback to the days long gone, when large groups of dirty people gathered together in a giant gravel lot, or under one horrifically shambled roof, to sell goods bootlegged from Korea. It is this kind of entrepreneurship that makes the flea market experience one not to be missed, and today, I’d like to share that experience with you.

Amandoll spoke of her experience with a fancier sort of flea market than to which I am accustomed. In Ohio, they tend to have rickety imitations of shopping malls for their flea markets — and that is fine. But in Indiana, we have questionable warehouses that might be illegally housing vendors, or even a haphazard gathering scratched out in the dirt alongside a rural road.

A very low res blurry photo of the inside of a flea market. Trash is piled high.
Please enjoy these images uploaded during Web 1.0

The term “flea market” has some sort of meaning to it, but as far as I can tell, I can’t remember what it was. I do however remember that for about twelve straight years I was severely disappointed every time I went to one and was not able to purchase fleas. Though unbeknownst to me, I probably received several free fleas from the other flea market patrons. But the idea behind a flea market is simple in its pure genius:

  1. Get a ton of hobos together
  2. Let them sell things that no one would ever buy
  3. You come and buy them

And thus a modern institution is created. Flea markets thrive all across America. However, because of the variety of every flea market, no two are ever the same. This is where the general adventure comes in, since you never really know what you’re going to walk into. With this article, I hope to at least guide you to have a more pleasant shopping experience than you would if you simply went into such a place without knowledge of what you’re in for beforehand. So read on, and steel yourself for the amazing American consumer abortion known as the flea market.

Finding A Flea Market Right For You

Like most shopping experiences, there is a large variety of flea markets available that may or may not suit your particular tastes as a consumer. What one flea market buyer may consider as a fine establishment because they can buy camouflage Dale Earnhardt caps for $4 apiece, the other flea market buyer may consider it complete trash because it does not sell cups of beer at the concession stand. There are many factors that you should consider when asking yourself what sort of flea market you would like to shop at, such as:

  • Do I care about general cleanliness of my surroundings?
  • Do I care about the general cleanliness of my fellow flea market patrons?
  • Do I mind buying products that may be of questionable origin?
  • Do I mind being around people that seem to live in the sewage system?
  • Do I have any qualms with actually buying something that may bring into question my mental state?

If you answered yes to any of those, then I’m afraid every one of the large amount of flea markets will simply not be for your tastes. Flea markets, by and large, are generally not the most high society of places. Most flea markets are generally the last ditch place for locals to earn some money for their “liquorin’ up” later that night. If the last series of questions did not leave you shaken, then the questions you may instead want to ask would be:

  • Are liquor and cigarettes available at the food stand?
  • Is the closest no smoking area in the next county over?
  • Am I allowed to not wear a shirt and shoes and still enter?
  • Do I consider “hollerin'” to be the highest quality social interaction that I will be around while at the flea market? Or is “spittin’ n’ whistlin'” my preferred social interaction?

Once you have the characteristics of your dream flea market down, your next priority is to visit each of your local flea markets to see which one matches your soul. If you can’t find your local flea market, I would suggest looking in your newspaper’s local ads section. Flea market ads can generally be identified as the ones with large, bold misspelled letters exclaiming things like: “LOCAL CUSTOM MADE QUUALITY GOODS AND HOGS.” There should be several. All you need to do is find the address and attempt to find large, rundown, possibly condemned buildings with people congregating around them and bam — welcome to your first flea market! Now, let’s see what your flea market has to offer.

A Selection From The Heavens

The selections you’ll be finding in your flea market will be as varied as the people you’ll see spitting on the floor. Each flea market will be laid out in interconnected booths that people rent out to sell their goods to you. Some booths may be small with only a few trinkets to offer, while others will be large and filled with stolen goods. It’s all very random, and so will be the things you’ll find in them.

Basically, at its heart, a flea market is where people go to sell complete junk. Junk that you’d be embarrassed to even look at in a store. Junk that most of the time resembles things that have been in far too many failed yard sales and this is their last hope. There’s really no easy way around it. But that is the attraction of such a place. One of those “one man’s junk is another’s treasure” or something. Except there is no treasure here. At the most, you will experience overwhelming curiosity at what you’ll find.

A photo of 5 rocks that have been painted bravely. One is a ladybug, one is a car, one is green and says Daddy #1, and two are of design.
The fine art of the flea market.

Aside from the various bootlegged staples of all flea markets, like finding your favorite Spaderman or Georangers toys and cheap weaponry, you’ll mostly come across a lot of craft tables, or whatever you want to call them. These are tables that people use to sell their various crafts, but the sad fact of the matter is, unlike many neat and attractive crafts, most of these crafts fall into the “I learned this in one day” type of craft. Most are completely useless and unattractive. Like the ever popular painted rocks, and the even more popular “half a semester of beginner art class in junior high” booth art gallery. There is a reason why these crafts are in a flea market. Remember that.

Besides that, you’ll have your amazingly overpriced hobby booths. These usually contain things like old collectible toys that look to have been eaten by a dog and regurgitated years ago, but are now on sale here for prices that usually make mint condition prices look cheap in comparison. The reason for this? The majority of the people who own these booths think you are very stupid — and with good reason. It’s a flea market. Generally, everything you look at will be far, far more expensive than what you may ever imagine paying for something, which leads us to our next section:

Why The Hell Is This Shit So Expensive?

Who knows. I’d guess that the vast majority of booth owners feel their shit is pure gold, and if you’re dumb enough to buy it, then by God they’ll sell you a dozen of them. An example: My friend and I had heard rumors that the de facto generic toy stand had come under the possession of some rare Transformer Generation 1 figures, and this piqued my curiosity. Especially since the last time I was there, the booth in question had nothing more than a pile of naked He Man figures and about 5,892,433 packaged Xena figures that looked suspiciously as if some actual toy store realized the horrible mistake of trying to sell Xena action figures and dumped them out back where our surly flea market toy shop owner scooped them up in order to sell them for the lovely price of six dollars each. I was prepared to call out the owner if these mystical toys were not there, and we were instead directed to a wall full of Lucy Lawless plastic figures like we were last time — which is what I was fully expecting.

Imagine my surprise when that wasn’t what happened at all, and instead this guy actually HAD several G1 Transformers sitting inside the dirtiest glass case you could possibly ever imagine. Admittedly, they were all in pretty damn shitty condition, including a Soundwave figure that looked to have been dragged behind a car for the last twenty years. Ronnie, however, said he would actually buy Soundwave since, you know, it’s Soundwave, and it could possibly be cleaned up if enough sandblasting was applied. Of course Ronnie was expecting this to be offered at a price that was fairly reasonable, like maybe $10. He wasn’t wanting it as a collector, he just wanted it simply because it’s motherfucking Soundwave, and Soundwave has more cool in his spring loaded missile launcher than most toy lines will ever hope to achieve.

Stock image of a Transformers Generation 1 toy of Soundwave.

Of course no price was on the toy, so we summon the shop owner, a Large Man with an NWO Wolfpack shirt that looked to have seen far better days. Ronnie asks what the price is. The owner looks puzzled and says he will consult his collector book for a price. This was the first sign of what was to come, as this guy was consulting a book intended for figures in absolute perfect condition. This figure was obviously in the sort of condition that would cause a serious collector to rupture a lung laughing if you had asked them to purchase it. The owner waddles back over and starts rubbing his chin, slowly figuring to himself just how much he could take us purty city boys for.

“Well… ummm… let’s see. The book says this is going for $125 in mint condition, and since it’s missing any accessories and has a few scratches on it, I’ll sell it for… forty bucks.”

I am not a serious collector, but I may have ruptured my lung laughing right in his face. I couldn’t keep it in.

The owner said that the toy was easily in C5 condition, but looking at it from my perspective, this thing was closer to CShit condition. His reasoning for the price? The mechanism that opens Soundwave’s cassette deck STILL WORKS. Wow. Forty bucks for a toy that looked to have been uncovered by an archeological dig. Needless to say, Ronnie and I got away from there relatively quick.

Oddly enough, there was another toy shop on the other side of the market that actually did have worthy collector item Transformers. Including a Soundwave that I would have easily paid $40 for if I had any money, and a collection of Dinobots that almost made me shit myself. So you see, it all just depends on who you deal with. You may try haggling, but for the most part you’re better off just moving along to the next booth, and never looking back again unless you’re down for the browsing and comparing prices between shops.

Let’s Take A Tour Of A Flea Market!

We here at Sneer Campaign realize that many of you may still be apprehensive about going to a flea market. Maybe you still can’t imagine what these flea markets have to offer. “Couldn’t I just find the majority of this stuff at my local landfill?” you may be asking. For the most part, yes, but you’d be missing out on the magic that is the flea market experience. To help you understand, Ronnie and I took a trip to our closest flea market, and we’re going to let you come on a virtual tour with us:

A photo of inside a flea market. The booth appears to be "tupperware bins full of dollar store rejects" in theme.
Dollar store reject pile.

Welcome to the Indy North Side Flea Market. Here you can find tub after tub of goods that were most likely stolen from other local stores, or simply acquired through other countries in cheap bulk. As you can see here, the selection is as random as the goods are illegal.

Photo of a camouflaged cap with a number 3 on it.

Nothing says Nascar fan like a camouflaged Dale Earnhardt cap. Note that this cap is a measly five dollars. How can you go wrong for that price? Throw down a fiver and get ready to CRUSH THEM TERRO-ISTS… in a NASCAR. Dale’s got your back.

A board on a concrete floor has forgotten toys on it. That's right, the board is meant to be a table. There is a Lazzie Bear polar bear stuffy, some cartons of unloved toys, and a cheap Miss Piggy puppet that might have once been a marital aide.

This is an example of a small booth. Yes, this was an entire booth. Note how most of it is complete shit. The festive teddy bear does seem to liven things up a bit. It’s not even noticeably stained! However the poor, poor Miss Piggy has seen a life of hardships. The horrible snake thing seems to be bearing down for the kill.

Bare metal shelving offer up grocery items. Some cake mixm some off brand mayo, soups. Eat at your own risk.

This was a small selection of groceries just sorta out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not one to say how safe purchasing food at a flea market would be, but I have generally always followed the common sense rule of “never buy food from a flea market, no matter how cheap.” I kept with this rule here as well. Such a purchase would result in horrible stomach and bowel death, I would imagine. Although I must admit I did have a hankerin’ for a giant bottle of BBQ sauce at the time. Damn you, flea market and your cursed but tempting food products!

Big old tube teevees that were the old kinds that sat in our grandparents living room floors.

This was the electronics selection, where the original kinds of television went to die ignoble deaths. Not much really needs to be said, other than I felt the sort of sadness that I think I’d find at an old and infirm horse meat auction. I enjoy the random pants covering the closest TV, and the tube thing that appears to be at least forty years old and filled with semen. Pure flea market quality at its finest.

Red plastic handcuffs meant to be a bedroom aide, but there are dolls and children's toys on the shelf nearby?

Yes, you can even find handcuffs to strap your intimate partner to the bed frame with while hurling empty bottles at the wall, or whatever it is you are into. These love cuffs were a tempting buy at $1.99, but then I just remembered that’s what rope is for. It should also bear mentioning that these were in the children’s toy section if you can’t tell from the background. Just what every young boy and girl needs!

A small closet-sized booth is wrapped heavily in Cautionary Police Tape and a Stop Sign in multiple languages.

This is how the various sections were separated from one another. It made us feel welcomed, and expectant of a police raid at any moment.

This booth is just about 50 pairs of shoes scattered on the floor. They are sort of in a semi circle.

This was also a booth. I called it ‘Sad Shoe Town.” I think the organizers of this one stood across the room and just threw shoes at the booth. And then stomped on them in a contest to see who could make it the most unattractive display ever. I don’t think Sad Shoe Town’s population will be declining anytime soon.

The back of a VHS tape called Country Mouse Meets City Mouse.

This was found in the children’s video section. The title of the video is Country Mouse Meets City Mouse. I am sure it is quaint enough. However, you get an extra bonus for buying this for your child:

The front of the VHS tape has a cigarette pouch taped to it? Looks to be Winston Salem brand.

Yes, for buying this video, your child also receives their very own cigarette pouch strapped to the front. Never before has Country Mouse Meets City Mouse been such a tempting buy.

On a glass cabinet surface is a plastic display of Spider Man's hand emerging from the dirt, holding a Sper Man dagger in a sheath.

This was proudly on display at the weapons booth. I was never aware that Spidey ever used a dagger, or climbed out from underneath the ground, but yet here it is. This will look smashing next to your camo Dale Earnhardt cap.

A shelf of sunblock jars, panty liners, and possibly it is motor oil?

Another small shelf with random things. I backed away in horror when I noticed the panty liners, because the store Cub Foods went out of business here about eight years ago. Can those things really expire, though? Admittedly, the idea of buying panty liners at a flea market does make me laugh for endless amounts of time.

Distorted and blurry photo of a cross bow box.
“Pistol Crossbow.”

Back at the children’s toy aisle, we managed to find this little beauty. Take one look at that and tell me that’s not illegal — let alone a child’s toy. Needless to say this was the only thing I bought all day, because how the hell can you pass a goddamn crossbow up? And for twelve bucks even! Thank YOU, Mexico!

Shelves of random trash, it looks like an ill-kempt thrift store.

As we left the flea market, passing by rows and rows of random oddities, we really had to appreciate the uniqueness of such a place. I mean, where else on Earth can you find such absolute shit? And in such high volumes? Again, I have to insist that you not answer: “the garbage dump,” even if you are technically correct.

Congratulations, Now It’s Your Turn

After all of this, I hope that you now have the confidence to experience the flea market scene for yourself. Now it’s your turn to discover your favorite market and see the useless shit that’s sold in every corner. Stare in horror at the amazing prices people want you to pay for their junk. Even mingle with a crowd that may be closer to prehistoric man than you believed possible. I wouldn’t actually suggest buying anything, though. That’s not what the flea market experience is about. No, the flea market experience for you to be a part of, even if for a few minutes, a sort of urban (or rural) sideshow — a sideshow made up of curiosity, disgust, and the occasional wonderment.

Your flea market experiences will vary, though. It’s a big America out there, and every state has their own version of the flea market. It’s part of the fun of going to them. If you really have never been, I highly suggest taking the time to go. The flipside of consumerism and its dark, stained underbelly can be quite enjoyable. It shows in a very haggard way how things used to be done way, way back in the days before we had “well-organized shopping centers” or “consumer protection” or “any health and safety precautions whatsoever.” It is simply people gathering under one roof with the intention of peddling their goods to other simple people. It’s neat in a way — until you realize that 80% of everything at the flea markets is bootlegs and the rest is literal trash.

Well, most of it is. I mean, sometimes you’ll find something that’s worth your while, right?

Jeremy's hand is holding up that little crossbow from before.

Sneer Back

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.