All About Flea Markets, Swap Meets, and Vintage Shows

Person shopping at flea market or swap meet

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What's the difference between a flea market and a swap meet? Is there one? What about antique malls, antique shows, vintage shows, and vintage markets? How about indie markets, artisan markets, and craft shows? What is a pop-up market? If you've ever wondered, read on for those answers and more.

Flea Market

The term "flea market" originated with the French marché aux puces. It translates to "market of the fleas" and referred to the likely flea-infested used merchandise of such sales. Flea markets are events where multiple vendors gather to sell merchandise. Many flea markets today offer both new and used goods. Though open-air markets were once the norm, today's flea markets may take place indoors, outdoors, or both.

Vendors set up and sell their goods from designated spaces, booths or stalls, which they rent from the flea market owners or organizers. Traditionally, each flea market vendor stays with their booth and takes care of customer transactions. In most of today's permanent indoor flea markets, vendors stock and set up their booths, but they don't stay to work with customers. Transactions are handled by flea market employees, and the market pays the vendors on designated days.

Swap Meet

Technically, a swap meet is a gathering where people swap primarily used merchandise. Traditionally, a swap meet involved only bartering of merchandise. You will often hear of parents throwing toy swaps, which is a small version of a swap meet. Today, however, many swap meet items are sold instead of traded, and the term is used interchangeably with flea market. You can now find many bartering-only swap meets online. Bartering and swapping websites specialize in just about anything, from office and garage space to clothing and professional skills.

Vintage Show

A vintage show is a relatively new term in the flea market world. It usually refers to an occasional sale where the used goods—primarily home furnishings—are trendy, desirable, and aged but not old enough to be antiques. Most vintage shows are called curated markets, which typically means vendors are chosen on both the appeal of their merchandise and their talent in displaying it. The vintage items are frequently altered by restyling, upcycling, or repurposing.

Vintage Market

Vintage market is another newish term and one that can refer to several different types of sales, but, in some cases, this is just another name for a vintage show. Producers of antique shows and upscale flea markets occasionally use the term to refer to a special vintage section of the sale or even a stand-alone spin-off event. Some indoor booth malls are also called vintage markets instead of indoor flea markets or antique malls.

Pop-Up Market

Visually, a pop-up market looks no different than an indoor or outdoor flea market selling similar types of merchandise. The term refers to the market location and schedule. Instead of taking place on a regular schedule, a pop-up market opens up somewhere temporarily—and not always on a regularly scheduled date.

You will encounter single-location markets incorrectly calling themselves pop-up markets just because the term is trendy. If the event happens in a regular place at a regular time, it is not a pop-up market.

Antique Show

Antique shows are indoor or outdoor sales featuring primarily merchandise that is at least 100 years old. Antique show goods are typically finer and pricier than those at the average flea markets. Some antique shows, such as the ​Springfield Antique Show, are priced to appeal to both resellers and private buyers, while others cater primarily to antique collectors.

Antique Mall

Antique malls are indoor stores. Like flea markets, they rent booth space to multiple vendors. Antique malls are frequently indistinguishable from permanent indoor flea markets.

Some antique malls take the antique part of the term seriously and require that a specified percentage of the merchandise be at least 100 years old. Others use the word "antique" interchangeably with "vintage" in that they just expect the goods to be old. Some call their businesses antique malls, but they actually sell everything from expired cosmetics to garage sale fare.

Other Market Types

  • Artisan markets are like craft shows, but they feature handcrafted merchandise made by multiple vendors. Using the term "artisan market" instead of "craft show" is savvy marketing. It sounds more upscale, and you picture professional potters and painters instead of hobbyists wielding glue guns.
  • Barn sales are occasional flea markets or vintage shows that take place in a barn.
  • Craft shows or fairs are markets where makers sell their handcrafted objects. Craft shows may be held indoors or outdoors.
  • Indie markets, such as TreasureFest, are those that feature merchandise by indie ("indie" is a trendy shortened version of "independent") designers instead of commercial manufacturers. 
  • Farmers' markets are food markets. Fresh produce is the most prevalent merchandise, but many farmers' markets offer baked goods and dairy products as well.