Hollis Flea Market • Salem Flea • Londonderry Flea Market • Derry Flea Market • Grafton Flea • Reitta Ranch • Brimfield • Raynham Flea
I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t get up early on a Sunday morning and go flea marketing. Some people go to Church. Some people sleep in. Some get the paper and plop down with a cup of coffee and read the news. Some go for a jog. For me, it’s always been walking up and down dusty paths and looking over other people’s things that they are selling. Rows and rows and boxes and boxes. Thousands of strangers. Haggling on prices. People watching. Fried dough and hot dogs and snow cones. Toys and records and music and comic books and movies and … everything. I got my first 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (along with Castlevania) at the Derry Flea Market. I got my friends into buying speakers and speaker boxes and amplifiers for our cars at the Salem Flea Market. I am a product of swap meets and flea markets.
I’m going to delve into my history of Flea Markets and give you a few tips if you haven’t been before and how to conduct yourself. More after the cut:
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY FLEA MARKET
When I was little, my family would get up early on a Sunday morning, pile in the car and head off to the various flea markets in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts area. I get the obsession from my folks. For them, flea markets were an all-day event. We would hit multiple flea’s in a day, and would arrive home, with new stuff under our arms and in bags around 4 or sometimes 5pm. That is a long day of rummaging around in other people’s things. Dirty and dusty hands. People wonder where my OCD for collecting things comes from: this is it. Here it is.
I’ve never been able to shake the habit or obsession of going. To me, this is simply what you did on Sunday mornings – and seeing all the other buyers and sellers would justify that in my brain. Decades of repetition have now made me do it automatically. Get up. Get dressed. Grab a coffee. Head to the flea market. Poke, prod, touch, inspect, haggle, buy, smile. Good times.
The flea market(s) I’ve gone to the longest out of all others is the Hollis Flea Market & Shirley’s Flea. These are both located in Hollis NH and are located across the street from one another. Although they are actually two flea markets, everyone I know, including myself, considers both of them as the “Hollis Flea Market“. Close proximity glues them together and they become one giant monster.
When I was young, fried dough was the king. You would see tons of people walking down each row chowing down on sugar and cinnamon covered fried dough. When I think of flea markets my brain associates them with the taste of cinnamon and sugar. They will always taste like that to me. Just like Sunday mornings will always feel like “flea market” to me.
When I was a kid I was mostly looking for comic books and Garbage Pail Kid trading cards. I was a big comic collector along with my dad, so I’d poke through boxes looking for issues that our collection needed (mainly Green Lantern) and when I’d find stuff that I knew we needed I’d let my dad know. I remember one particular season at Hollis there was this guy that had all these old Silver Age (1959-1990’s) issues of Green Lantern, but they were all coverless. I remember that summer we just about completed our Green Lantern collection by purchasing all the older issues we needed. I didn’t care that they were coverless, my dad didn’t care either: they were priced less and it helped complete the run of issues. That was an awesome summer – picking up issues #1, 2, 3, 4, and tons more of the original Green Lantern series. I think we completed the whole series that summer for GL (aside from the issues that were still coming out monthly). I used to trade Garbage Pail Kids cards through the mail with my buddy in school when we would end up getting duplicates. The Salem Flea Market will always “feel” like Garbage Pail Kids to me; rock-hard pink bubblegum sticks and wax packages being ripped open.
On Sunday’s after leaving the Salem Flea Market with my parents, we would always stop at Granite State Potato Chips and get a big plastic bucket of fresh-off-the-belt chips. Hot and salty and crispy. The car would be full of balled up used napkins from all the potato chip oil.
When I got older I was still picking up comics, but I was also looking for record albums and cassette tapes. So many hours of riding around in the back of my parents car with my walkman listening to tapes I had just bought with my allowance.
As I started to drive, my buddies and I started becoming obsessed with speakers and car audio. The Salem Flea Market had all these car audio sellers – speakers and car amplifiers and carpeted speaker boxes. I once bought a 1,000 watt Pyramid car amplifier and I had a giant speaker box that had four 10-inch Pyramid Phase III subwoofers and tweeters. It took up the entire hatchback of my Chevy Chevette. I would blast 1980’s music at extremely high volume – Men at Work and Belinda Carlisle and Phil Collins and Mr. Mister and … all of it. It was amazing. It was totally over the top, and my friends and I loved every minute of it.
After graduating high school, I stuck with the habit of going. When I started working retail in my early 20’s I’d make sure that I could get Sunday’s off. Every record store I worked at was happy to work with me on my one scheduling need once I shared my obsession with flea markets. In the mid 90’s I was heavily collecting laserdisc movies and video games in addition to music cds and the random pop-culture collectible. Sunday afternoons were spent watching movies and listening to cds and indexing and filing new purchases away. When I started getting into relationships, I dragged them along to the flea markets. Sometimes reluctantly. Dragged along so I could look through rows and rows of toys and music cds and video games and all kinds of niche and used stuff.
For a while I was going with an old high school friend. Our Sunday schedule went as follows: Hollis Flea Market, then back to my apartment where we would play hours of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. In the evening we would get Little Caesar’s Stuffed Crust pizza and watch the newest episode of the X-Files. And that was how it would go.
When I met Sara almost twenty years ago, one of my concerns was wether or not she could endure flea markets on Sundays. Over the years she’s even started picking stuff up that she’s into: books and brass bells and other cool things.
I tend to like simple things and I am also a creature of habit. No matter where we are, if it’s a weekend and we see a flea market sign, we’ve gotta check it out. Every road trip we take is broken up with random stops at flea markets if there is one that we pass on the route that we are taking. Sara started collecting little brass bells in the shapes of people because the first one she found was at some random flea market next to the highway on our way through Connecticut years ago.
Why do I dig them? Because I like the search. I love the hunt. I love never knowing what I’m going to stumble across. It might be an out-of-print record or cd. Or it might be a photographic light meter that may or may not work for $4. Or it might be a portable photographic light with a battery that might or might not work for ten bucks. It might be a weird piece of art, or an old patch, or it might be a stuffed muppet of Animal (like the time we were driving cross-country and found a stuffed Animal at a Flea in North Carolina who then came all the way across the US and back with us and who was featured at every landmark we stopped at).
I know what you are thinking: “Jesus, Sid, you’ve got to be spending serious money on all this crap”. Well, not nearly as much as you might think. Being a product of my mother and father one thing I’ve learned over the decades of going to these is one major thing:
Flea Marketing is all about haggling on prices. Sometimes sellers aren’t really committed to the prices they place on their flea market goods. There is wiggle room in there, and that is where the dance starts. Haggling consists of asking how much someone places value on a specific thing, and then offering what you value the item at. Somewhere in the middle is the real price. Sometimes you have to dance your way to that price.
Sometimes you don’t have to haggle. What they value the resale at and what you value the price at are the same. For example, most used compact discs sell for roughly $1 each (at the current 2018 season). As long as the cd is in really good condition and not destroyed or roached (trust me, some people don’t check the condition of their items, and they should) a dollar is a pretty decent price. A buck for a cd full of music. Sometimes sellers will price cds even lower: 25 or 50 cents. Sometimes they’ll offer bundle pricing: each cd is $1 or a bundle of 5 cds for $4.
Sometimes someone will have something priced at, say, $10. I might not value that item at ten bucks. I’d feel comfortable picking it up at $5. So I’ll offer that as a price.
“Any chance you’d consider five bucks for it?”
Sometimes they might say “…sure”, or they might say “Nah, too low. How about $8” or sometimes they might say “$10. No budging” and you have to reevaluate if you want the item or not.
The art of haggling. Sometimes it goes in your favor, and sometimes it won’t.
Over the decades of attending and buying at flea markets I have noticed a major change since the internet and eBay have appeared. Sellers and buyers think nothing of whipping out their phones and bringing up closed auctions to help them justify why their price is the One True Price. Every season I will run into a few sellers who will reply with “..but I can get $xxx.xx for this allllllllll day on eBay” when I offer a price to them. Don’t do that. Don’t do it as a seller, and don’t do it as a buyer. If you are selling, know what your prices are the minute you have your table laid out. If you really want full used MSRP retail on your used items, pack up your table and take your box of treasures home and sell on eBay or LetGo or Craigslist or wherever. A flea market is not a full retail marketplace. It’s a flea market. It’s a swap meet. It’s a yard sale. It’s a tag sale. Keep that in mind.
Another thing that I’ve watched over the decades is the quantity of vendors selling bootleg items. I first remember seeing bootleg purses and bags at the Salem Flea Market. They would also have bootleg toys, which was always awesome because it was always the weirdest combination of unlicensed stuff patchworked together. Pokemon t-shirts with a purple Pikachu.
I mean, look at that. Just look at it. It’s the biggest mashup of unlicensed brands all squished together in blister packaging. You’ve got Disney’s Mr. Incredible, Marvel’s Spider-Man, DC’s Batman, Disney’s Toy Story, Power Rangers, another Spider-Man and DC’s Superman. It even has Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the packaging!! And Shreck!! It’s insane!!! There is no possible way these would ever be logistically sold together, but in the bootleg world it’s okay to just mash everything into one and go nuts. It’s an incredible train-wreck.
When I was little, all the cool kids had the real Transformer’s Dinobots. They were awesome. One Christmas, I opened my present and there was a bootleg Dinobot; wrong color, wrong look, but oh-so-“Super DinoRobotsaurs Dragon” I got bummed at first, but then I realized that he was different from all the other same-looking Dinobots my buddies had. I could pretend that he was the leader of the common Dinobots. He was more unique. And back then I had no idea about copyright infringement or patent copyright. I just knew that he wasn’t a real Dinobot so he had more to prove to his Transformers.
THE BIG ONE
A few years ago, Sara and I finally decided to go to the Brimfield Antique Market. Brimfield is, like, one of the largest flea markets in the United States, and it’s just a short drive from us in Brimfield Mass. It is three times a year for a week each time, and it very well could take you a whole week to go through it. The first time we went, we actually covered the whole thing in two days and spent the night at a local motel. We covered one side on day 1 and then the second side on day 2. It’s absolutely massive. I think Sara figured out that over two days we walked about 8 miles. It was an amazing amount of sellers. However, a majority of the things sold at Brimfield are Antiques. There aren’t a lot of records and movies and cd’s and stuff. This is mostly antiques. But you’ll still be amazed at what you can find. For our first trip we tried to pace ourselves and take our time, and we found lots of small things that we picked up. Plus, staying over night in a motel was kind of cool.
If you are any kind of a flea market junkie, Brimfield is worth the visit at least once in your life.
THE TABLES HAVE TURNED
After decades of attending and buying at Flea Markets, Sara and I decided one summer to set up a booth and try to sell stuff to raise money for a new iPad. We packed up all kinds of books and movies and all kinds of stuff, and headed out at 5am on a Sunday morning and set up at the Hollis Flea Market. We had a pretty good day; we sold enough to get a new iPad and we had fun while doing it. Remembering how *I* like to be treated as a buyer, everyone got a smile, and just about everyone was able to get the stuff they wanted at the prices they offered. The stickers with prices were just a starting point for us, and I anticipated people trying to haggle with us. And I saw tons of smiles as they went on to the next vendor.
“How much for this lion-headed garden post thing?”
“Make me an offer, Sir!”
“YOU ARE GOING HOME WITH A LION-HEADED GARDEN POST THING, MY FINE MAN! ENJOY IT!”
and that was how it went for the morning. We brought home much much less than we had brought, so that was a good day in my eyes. There was definitely a feeling of having been a buyer for so long it was now time to experience the other side as a seller. And most people that day were pretty good. I only had a few low-baller buyers and only a few people that went though all my stuff while looking things up on eBay.
A few years ago I started posting my weekly finds on my Instagram page. Just a quick way to put up all the neat stuff I was able to find. I think a lot of people think I spend a lot more money than I do each week. On average I’m spending about twelve bucks a week. I’m coming home with a lot of stuff for that; sometimes more, sometimes less. People that go to Starbucks every day spend much more than I do on a Sunday morning four times a month. And I get some awesome stuff that I can play on my cd or record player, or movies to watch, or just awesome stuff to decorate my apartment with and add to my collections. Be sure to follow me on Instagram so you can see all my purchases as well as my professional photography and just about everything else that I love and am passionate about.
SOME TIPS WHEN GOING TO A FLEA MARKET
Lets say this post has got you interested in hitting up a few flea markets. Maybe you’ve never been and you’re thinking to yourself “Hey, this sounds kinda neat. Maybe I should head over to “xxxx” Flea Market on Sunday and poke around”. Well, if thats the case, I’ve jotted down some thoughts and some of my personal rules of how to approach flea markets, and things to be mindful as you are poking around tables of other peoples stuff:
Some of my personal rules when Flea-marketing:
• When you offer, be friendly and courteous to the seller. I always try to phrase things in such a way so that I’m not being flippant or rude. If I’m about to make an offer, I’ll start with “Any chance you would take…” or “Would you consider..”. That goes much better than staring at the person and barking out “…5 bucks” and staring at them. There is no need to be combative at a flea market. Someone has something that you kinda want to have. Be cool and friendly, and ask with a smile.
• Don’t lowball. I want stuff for really cheap too, but you can’t get everything for free. I people-watch a lot when I’m flea marketing and too many times I’ll see someone offer $5 on at item that the seller wants $20 for. If a seller tells me a price that is really high, I wont even counter if I’m nowhere near where he is value wise. Don’t insult the seller. Don’t get angry if what he values the item at and what you value the item at aren’t in the same ballpark. Just move on. Don’t make the dance volatile, and try not to insult the other dancer.
• In most cases, the time to buy it is when you see it. I’ve passed on things in the past that I’ve never seen used again for sale. Sometimes it was a matter of a $10 difference in price between the buyer and the seller. If you really want something, try to think if you might *ever* see that item used again. Music and movies, sure, you’ll probably see it again, but that odd item that you never knew you needed in your life until the second you saw it? Haggle a little more if that’s the case. Or shell out the extra few bucks.
• Don’t take it personally – this is just stuff. It’s pieces of plastic and cardboard and whatever. It’s just junk in the long term. If you can’t get it at the price you want, or if a seller won’t budge on a price, it isn’t anything personal. It’s an unstoppable force vs an immovable object. Just give it up and move along. You’ll find it again at some point. (if not there is always eBay)
• Personality goes a long, long way. This might be the most important thing. Just be nice. If you are a buyer – be nice. If you are a seller – be especially nice. Nobody wants to buy from a jerk, and nobody wants to sell to a jerk either. Don’t insult someone over a price or an offer. A pleasant “nah, no thanks” works wonders, and if I see you again selling at the flea market I might come up on my offer. I have witnessed first hand sellers insulting buyers and offers. I’ve seen buyers insulting sellers. I’ve watched sellers give middle fingers to buyers. I’ve seen buyers verbally cuss out sellers. That is EXACTLY what you SHOULD NOT DO when buying/selling. What in the world are you insulting each other for? Just because this is a flea market doesn’t mean Mad Max rules apply. Don’t be a dick, period.
• Keep a pocket full of small bills on you. If you are going to haggle down a price, it helps to have the right amount of cash in hand or readily accessible. It especially helps when you are making the counter offer to hold the cash you want to offer in your hand. I’ve had sellers see the cash in my hand and agree to my asking price right away. When they see that green things can speed up the process.
• Pace yourself. Some flea markets can be biiiig. Like Rietta Ranch in Hubardston MA. Take it slow and take it row by row. Stick to one side of the row. Go up one side and c’mon back down on the other side. If you see something that catches your eye, dive in, but don’t get pushy. I once saw a box of DVDs that had some Criterion Collection titles at the same time, and the other dude got physical and pushy and dominated the box. This is just stuff, and I’m not willing to get into a fistfight with someone over a $4 dvd. But, don’t be that jerk to begin with.
• Bring a bag to put your purchases in. It’s easier to just pop what you bought into your own bag than have vendors fumble around for plastic shopping bags. Bring something with handles that is robust and can hold a lot. I’ve got this big old Halo 3 messenger bag that I got like a decade ago that has six compartments and it’s perfect for flea market swag. It can comfortably hold records and movies and CDs and all kinds off stuff. Sara and I have loaded that bag up quite a few times and it can hold a shit-ton of stuff.
• Have fun. Flea markets attract a certain type of crowd. It is absolutely fascinating people-watching. There is so much awesome stuff that you can find at flea markets. You never know what you’ll find, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled and your mind open and have a good time with it.
I’ve done this most of my life. There is a certain quality of serenity I feel pacing up and down rows and rows of sellers. Finding something that you either were looking for after a long search, or something you never knew existed that you instantly had to have and make your life a tiny bit better. I’ll probably be dancing the Flea-Market Shuffle well into my elderly years. And I’m cool with that.
Here are some of the flea markets that I’d recommend and hit up:
• Shirley’s Flea (right across the street from the Hollis Flea)
• Brimfield Antique (three times a year – MASSIVE)
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