What is a Flea Market, Swap Meet, Barn Sale?

Every week I scour the papers and internet listings for the garage sales and flea markets to see who is selling what and what is special. After decades of collecting and scouring for just the right “thing”, I know that what I buy where makes a big difference. Here is a “dictionary” of the different types of sales and venues available for you to go hunting for treasures.

According to Google - “Flea markets are markets where multiple vendors gather to sell merchandise. They set up and sell their goods from designated spaces called booths or stalls, which they rent from the flea market owners or organizers. ... And, many flea markets offer both new and used goods.”

Because of the amount of flea markets that are now available, many will specialize in what they are selling. Some will only allow sales of vintage items and others will only allow fruits and vegetables and baked goods. But most flea markets are a combination of many different items and goods both used and new. And flea markets are held outdoors, indoors and a combination of both. Vendors work their own booths and communicate directly with their customers and their purchases. There are flea markets that are permanent and the merchant leasing the booth does not have to stay and deal with customers. All purchases will be handled in a central location with the owner of the market running the cash register and the accounting. Usually, the accounting department will pay the merchants monthly.

Now, a swap meet is a bit different than a flea market. Again, Google defines a swap meet as “a gathering at which enthusiasts or collectors trade or exchange items of common interest.” So, you can go to a swap meet that is designed to have things that you want and you can trade or swap with someone your stuff for theirs. Many swap meets have changed things to make it easier to get what you want by allowing the attendees to buy items and not just trade them.

A vintage show is where everything is old and collectible and is unique. It includes furniture and dishes and even clothes. Vintage shows are based on the love of nostalgia and is usually held in large outdoor areas such as fairgrounds and raceways. Items sold are not quite antiques in their age but are dated enough to bring back memories. Many items sold are re-purposed, re-styled and upcycled. Some vintage shows are juried so only certain types of vendors can display their merchandise. The booths at these markets are worth going to the show because of their ambitious stylings.

Antiques shows are held both indoors and out. The merchandise is very old, 50 to 100 years, and the prices reflect the rarity of the items. They are designed for people who collect items and many decorators and resellers will attend. Antique shows can be juried also and some have reputations of such fine products, that it takes years to get a booth.

Antique malls are vast stores with lots of booths located inside a large building. Booths are rented out to individual people who set up their booth like it is their very own store. But, they don’t have to work it. Just like an indoor flea market, antique malls are setup to have a central area where a customer can check out with all of their treasures no matter what booth the items came from. Depending on the overall theme of the antique mall, some require all merchandise to be authentic antiques and others allow a mix of vintage, antiques and even art. And then, there are the antique malls that are loose enough that they allow pretty much everything and may actually be considered flea market.

Barn sales, obviously, take place in a barn! These can be everything from antique shows, swap meets, flea markets and even auctions. Barn sales will have merchandise both indoors and outdoors and you may even find furniture and large equipment and plants being sold.

An Artisan Market or Indie Market is a show where everyone is an independent artist or designer. Skilled craft workers who make or creates things by hand will set up a table or booth and sell things that they have made. You will find furniture, decorative arts, sculptures, clothing, jewellery, food items, household items and tools. These markets are excellent for a creative boost!

A craft show is a bit different than an artisan market because most are juried shows where judges get to decide who is going to be allowed to present their goods. These are filled with people who have handcrafted their merchandise and rarely do you find machine manufactured goods. These shows are held outdoors in parks and on city streets or indoors as annual events.

A pop-up market is just like a flea market or a craft show, but they just suddenly show up. And then they are gone! Pop ups sell a wide variety of items and they keep no schedule or location. They are like the ice cream truck. You get so excited when you hear the bell. A pop up can show up in a parking lot, at a flea market or outside a busy building. Each city or town has its own permit rules for pop ups.

And finally, a Farmer’s Market is my all time favorite. Farmer’s Markets were designed for farmers to bring into town the food that they had grown to sell. Fresh produce, baked goods, canned items, dairy products are the mainstay items sold. But, many times you will find hand knitted and crocheted baby clothes and blankets. Hand carved wooden toys and many crafts have joined the selections. The typical farmer’s market is held in the open air in a downtown square and people come to buy and sell a variety of goods. Homemade crafts and clothing along with a bushel of apples are common sights. Sometimes a merchant will offer meat, poultry and dairy and live animals, homemade bread and even one of a kind artwork.

No matter where you go seeking treasures and collectibles, the markets are always a favorite. People enjoying the outdoors, the large amount of selection and the atmosphere is contagious and fun.

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