Like most other cities, the flea markets in Cincinnati are usually pretty light on the antiques, with one exception: The best one for an antiques' treasure hunt is Peddlers. However, you you better get there at 6am with a flashlight because all the real treasures get snapped up before 8am. All the other flea markets carry craft items, tools, toys, discontinued furniture, clothing items, and everything else you can think of, instead of antiques. The Enquirer article below sums it up best.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
By Alexander Coolidge Enquirer staff writer Mike Simons for The Enquirer
There are several theories on how bazaars with inexpensive goods became "flea markets":
The most widely offered explanation: The term comes the French marche aux puces, a name given to a market just north of Paris. Fleas were thought to be in the goods, "because they were of the kind to attract vermin," according to AskOxford.com. The original "flea market" now includes 12 buildings with 3,000 stalls, according to the Travel Channel.
Slums and narrow streets of Paris were cleared and replaced with wide boulevards (for cannons and cavalry) by Emperor Napoleon III, who reigned from 1851 to 1870. "The dealers in second-hand goods who lived and worked in these old neighborhoods were forced to flee. The merchants' new gathering place was referred to as the 'flee market,' which later became 'flea market,' " Ask.Yahoo.com says.
The term came from New York City's 18th-century Fly Market, Ask.Yahoo.com says. "Apparently, the Dutch name for the market was vlie, which means valley but is pronounced 'flea.'"
Flea markets, antiques dealers (at several levels) and thrift stores share a common thread: niche marketing to the customer searching for specific, hard-to-find items or just looking for the social experience that leads to impulse buying. That 1960s Monkees lunch box - even if it has a few dings or rust spots - might find a buyer if the price is right. The line between these operations is a gray one, but here are some basics:
FLEA MARKETS: Descendants of village markets that have dotted the landscape from ancient times and across every culture, the browser might find anything and everything here, from second-hand bicycles to velvet Elvis paintings to genuine antiques and new items such as arts and crafts. Sellers negotiate a fee with the flea market operator, then set up shop and wait for the crowds.
PRICING STRATEGY: Whatever the market will bring, baby.
ANTIQUES DEALERS: The classic high-end store, often catering to an exclusive clientele and specializing in antiquities of all manner. Many scour the world for coveted rare objects of special interest, sometimes for specific clients with whom they have maintained a long-standing relationship.
PRICING STRATEGY: Supply and demand rules. Don't expect to find original Colonial furniture or Byzantine icons at a Wal-Mart price.
ANTIQUES MALLS: Storefronts that carry items usually of more recent vintage, often more pop culture-oriented. Many such stores have popped up in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in recent years. They operate in different forms, but one of the most common arrangements is that individual dealers rent space in the store, set up a booth and allow the store management to do the actual selling and take payment. They range from tiny shops in older downtowns to huge supercenters such as the Florence Antique Mall in Northern Kentucky and the Brass Armadillo in West Chester.
PRICING STRATEGY: Varies widely with individual dealers and what's on the shelf (which changes often).
THRIFT STORES: Perhaps the original community bargain basement, such operators as St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill provide economy-priced items that support charitable endeavors with shelf fare drawn from community donations. The savvy browser also can be found in their aisles, seeking that replacement dinner plate or a 1974 National Geographic magazine donated by someone cleaning out their attic.
PRICING STRATEGY: Generally bargain pricing aimed at sales to those on tight budgets.
It has been said there's a lot of junk on the Internet. In the world of antiques, knickknacks, bric-a-brac and colorful kitsch, that's not always a bad thing.
But it does present challenges for flea markets, a grass-roots industry that exploded for three decades but faces increasing competition in cyberspace from auction houses such as eBay.
Flea markets and their kin in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are adapting to the new order, and customers keep coming.
An estimated $30-billion-a-year industry, flea markets cashed in on America's love affair with bargain prices through the 1970s and 1980s - the same engine that fueled the growth of mass discount retailers, according to the National Flea Market Association.
But by the mid-1990s, the scene was changing. The emergence of Wal-Mart, Target and other discounters drew away some of the flea market clientele. Then in 1995, eBay was born.
Flea markets and antique malls once had the local playing field largely to themselves.
Now, the ability of potential customers to browse hundreds of choices from sellers throughout the nation and the world - and get UPS or FedEx delivery, sometimes overnight - has put new pressure on an age-old business model.
Kevin Rich, a 49-year-old accountant from Delhi Township and an avid flea market and eBay shopper, said he hasn't noticed a decline in merchandise quality at outdoor markets from years past. He collects items for his Hot Wheels, coin, crystal and ceramic collections, while reselling some items.
"I think it's about the same," he said at the Turtle Creek Flea Market in Monroe.
Rich said there's always been competition for the choice finds, but that's part of the fun: searching for treasures buried among the clutter. On a recent trip, he nabbed a framed, pastoral print from a Victorian-era lithograph for $25, which he later discovered was worth $400.
While the laws of supply and demand will dictate the future of Rich's quests, vendors are divided on the industry's evolution.
Doug Freemon, who supplements his Lebanon-based vacuum cleaner and sewing machine repair and parts business with a booth at Turtle Creek Flea Market, said the Internet is increasing competition. It's also diluting the supply of quality goods, such as antiques.
"Flea markets have declined in volume," he said. "It's the convenience (of the Internet). Click, click and you wait for it to show up in the mail."
Mike Stallings, co-owner of Richwood Flea Market in Boone County, said the proliferation of discount retail stores is hitting the industry, especially for sellers of mainstream discounted goods often found at the market. A Wal-Mart Supercenter that opened last fall in Fort Wright slowed his traffic, although he declined to give specific figures.
Chuck Pretto, president of the National Flea Market Association, said the industry is still growing but concedes that many budding entrepreneurs would rather try their hand online first.
"It takes a lot less initiative to work out of your home than setting up every weekend morning and selling stuff," he said. "We don't see the same quantity of people wanting to start a new business at the flea market."
To counter the crush of new discount goods at stores across the country, Pretto said some markets are emphasizing more collectibles and garage-sale type items. He also estimated that 25 percent to 30 percent of flea market merchants are dabbling with eBay or the Internet to boost sales - an indication that merchants want to be in the game for tech-savvy customers.
There are four mega flea markets in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, along with smaller ones in such places as Miamitown, Batavia, Mount Healthy, Franklin and Cincinnati. Countless antique malls are spread across the region.
Ty Huynh, a 34-year-old human resources consultant who lives in Dayton but works in Cincinnati, is just such a merchant. Huynh, who buys, sells and trades everything Star Wars, works a booth at Turtle Creek - but is also known as "darksidemaul777" on eBay.
"I grew up with Star Wars. The first movie I ever saw was 'Return of the Jedi' - I didn't even speak any English," said Huynh, who was born in Vietnam and has lived in Dayton since he was 7 years old. "In 1999, I picked up a Yoda action figure, and I got into collecting."
A couple years later, he took his business online at eBay where he does about half of his sales. Huynh said the Internet gets him customers from as far away as Japan.
Still, Huynh estimates that the flea market draws 2,000 to 5,000 visitors a day past his booth. He said flea markets draw not just local customers on a bargain hunt but a steady stream of travelers off Interstate 75 from as far away as Canada and Florida.
Richwood Flea Market earlier this year opened an entire eBay store called "FleaBay." Stallings operates the site as an eBay drop-off store where any of his merchants can post items at one centralized site instead of going to the trouble of setting up their own Web sites.
"It's still a small part of sales, but we've shipped stuff to Australia and Italy," he said.
Monica Bartley, general manager of Turtle Creek Flea Market, said flea markets have one advantage over Internet competitors.
"EBay ... doesn't allow customers to touch or feel items," she said.
Bartley and other industry officials also say flea markets retain their timeless appeal for a shopper longing to get out of the house. The market boasts about 15,000 visitors every weekend.
Michelle Spillane, of Liberty Township, agreed. She was out with her mother, Cheryl Millhoff, visiting her from Piqua, and the two were shopping for vinyl records from such bands as Boston and Jefferson Starship to help redecorate Spillane's teenage son's room with a 1970s rock-and-roll theme. "I look at eBay, but it's more fun to go out and look for yourself," she said.
The atmosphere on a recent visit to Turtle Creek was akin to a tailgate party, as part-time sellers showcased everything from movies on VHS tape to used tools.
A clothes rack with a sign printed from a personal computer advertised "new jackets, all sizes" for $6 each or two for $10. Another table featured trays of calculators made by Texas Instruments for $7 and miniature Swiss Army knives for $5 apiece. Other vendors sold hot dogs and soda.
The flea market boasts about 500 vendors outdoors.
Among Turtle Creek's 500 inside vendors, some merchants say there is still a lot of life in the flea market format.
Mike Hillner, a salesman for Schloemer Mattress Outlets, said the retailer's flea market locations haul in thousands of budget-minded shoppers. The company primarily sells discontinued bedroom furniture lines.
"We do just about as much business at four flea markets (open on weekends) as the two main stores that are open seven days a week," he said.
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