As with most businesses, flea markets evolve over time. They change according to the needs of both buyers and sellers, and they may adapt to the latest flea market trends.
In the past decade or two, numerous long-established flea markets, including those once known for antique and vintage goods, have become overrun with sellers of cheap imports, department store seconds, out-of-date cosmetics and toiletries, and counterfeit designer accessories. These are not positive flea market trends for true treasure hunters, nor even for those just seeking to furnish a stylish home on a budget. Fortunately, there are a number of exciting flea market trends too.
Antique fairs and shows aren't newcomers to the flea market world, but the trend is still strong and it's growing. Depending on the venue, the events may take place monthly, annually, or somewhere in between.
Not all antique shows exclusively sell objects that are 100 years old or more, which is the definition of a true antique. Instead, most have strict rules on permitted merchandise. The Alameda Point Antiques Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, mandates that all items must be 20 years old or older. Vendors at Scott Antiques Markets in Ohio and Atlanta may sell only antiques unless their goods meet the criteria as artist-created works. Even then, their handcrafted merchandise must be marked as "new" to prevent confusing customers.
As exciting as it is to dig through a pile of junk and uncover a real treasure, it's also a pleasure—and it's far less exhausting—to shop a juried show. For these shows, vendors must apply and be approved to get in—simply paying a fee is not enough! This means that you get a well-curated variety of booths to explore.
Whether they're selling antique, vintage, or handcrafted goods, juried shows provide shoppers with desirable merchandise arranged in charming displays. In addition to being a fantastic source for decorative home furnishings, the displays are frequently a source of decorating inspiration.
Chicago's Randolph Street Market is a good example of a large-scale juried event in a traditional flea market setting. Fewer than 25 percent of applicants are approved as vendors: organizers approve only those whose merchandise and personal style mesh with the vendors on either side.
Potential exhibitors for the Three Speckled Hens Antiques & Old Stuff Shows in Paso Robles, California, are chosen in part because of their merchandising abilities and the uniqueness of their goods. This show also changes the requirements based on customers' current desires. For instance, they found that people don't want as much painted furniture as they did in the past, so they're not accepting new dealers who solely focus on that style.
Staging is important at The Farm Chicks Show in Spokane, too. Photos of past or sample displays are required with a vendor's application and all the booths are spectacularly designed around the treasures they hold.
Event organizers are well aware of consumer demand for trendy vintage furniture and accessories. Following suit, many of today's most popular markets showcase only vintage goods. They're no longer just the less desirable items stacked amidst the real antiques.
The biannual Remnants of the Past Vintage Show in Costa Mesa, California, has emerged as one of the leaders of the vintage show trend. Shoppers flock from all over the country to attend.
Traditional antique shows are getting into the vintage act too. Ohio-based Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market, which is known as the antique show where antique dealers shop, branched out with the Indie Arts and Vintage Marketplace. The show is like an art gallery filled with treasures from the past and is a favorite regular stop for many shoppers.
A number of top-tier flea markets have changed their food offerings as well. The traditional fair-style fare has been replaced by gourmet food truck selections from their cities' most lauded chefs, caterers, and bakers.
Some are even upping the foodie paradise factor by opening spin-off markets that feature just food-related vendors. Brooklyn Flea's Smorgasburg is a prime example. Selections frequently include fresh produce, gourmet ingredients, and prepared foods you can eat on the spot or take it home for a later meal.
Artisan markets are among the most exciting flea market trends of late. Typically more sophisticated than traditional craft shows, artisan markets feature original designs and handcrafted furnishings and apparel—in addition to fine arts of every imaginable medium.
TreasureFest (formerly Treasure Island Flea) in San Francisco's Bay Area, for example, offers everything from Steampunk garb to wing chairs upholstered in recycled bus route signs. They too have ramped up the food game to new heights with over 40 food trucks and tents that rotate regularly.