Flea Market History: An Interesting Past

Flea markets are a great way that many of B-Stock’s buyers make their living.  Buying liquidation inventory from our various marketplaces and taking that inventory to flea markets is a great way to make some money.  It sparked my interest in the history of the flea market, so I did some reading.

Flea Market History

While noone knows for sure, it appears likely that the first flea markets were started in the 1800’s.  According to some, the first reference to the term “Flea Market” appeared in two conflicting stories about a location in Paris, France in the 1860’s known as the marche aux puces which translates to “Flea (or Flee) Market”.

The first of these stories is in the article “What Is A Flea Market?” by Albert LaFarge, written in 1998 and published in Today’s Flea Market magazine. In his article he says, “There is a general agreement that the term “Flea Market” is a literal translation of the French marche aux puces, an outdoor bazaar in Paris, France, named after those pesky little parasites of the order Siphonaptera (or “wingless bloodsucker”) that infested the upholstery of old furniture brought out for sale.”

The second of these stories is from the “Book of Flea Markets”.  The author writes, “In the time of Emperor Napoleon III, the imperial architect Haussmann made plans for the broad, straight boulevards with rows of square houses in the center of Paris, along which army divisions could march with much pompous noise. The plans forced many dealers in second-hand goods to flee their old dwellings; the alleys and slums were demolished. These dislodged merchants were, however, allowed to continue selling their wares undisturbed right in the north of Paris, just outside of the former fort, in front of the gate Porte de Clignancourt. The first stalls were erected in about 1860. The gathering together of all these exiles from the slums of Paris was soon given the name “Marche aux Puces”, meaning “flee market”, later translation.

An American Tradition

The first American flea market is said to have opened in Texas in approximately 1873. The concept caught on fast and today some say there are 5,000 flea markets in the United States with over 1 million vendors and 100 million shoppers each year.

The flea market is perhaps the purest example of the entrepreneurial spirit in America. Vendors with few resources at their disposal manage to round up a collection of items that they believe will be sought after by the shoppers in the market. They operate their ‘store’ to the best of their ability and hope to end each day with a profit. They are always on the lookout for new and better merchandise, better ways to sell it, a better location at the flea market, etc.  It is all about buying low, selling high and moving as much volume as they can.

The Sourcing Challenge

Finding inventory to sell at a flea market used to be very challenging. It took significant work to uncover buying opportunities that would allow the purchase of inventory at sufficiently low prices such that a healthy profit could be earned. Today, that has changed. While many vendors have yet to discover inventory sourcing opportunities like the B-Stock Sourcing Network, those who have are enjoying the benefits of a steady, dependable supply of inventory that can be purchased at great liquidation prices directly from the retailer.  This was never possible before because the large liquidators out their had monopolized the market. Small flea market vendors were forced to buy from those liquidators at marked up prices.

So, if you are one of those small businesses struggling to find quality inventory at the right price, check out the B-Stock Sourcing Network and all of our affiliated marketplaces. You will find a wide array of products in varying lot sizes and conditions. Best of all, if you see something you like, just name your price.  Who knows, you just might find yourself becoming the winner!


Posted in: Liquidation