flea market

A “flea market” (or swap meet) is generally a street market, selling secondhand goods.

This type of market is often seasonal, but some operate year-round and the emphasis is on used goods, collectibles, antiques and vintage clothing. In a full-time business, vendors require skill in following retro and vintage trends, as well as selecting merchandise which will please their customers.

Different English-speaking countries use various names for flea markets. In Australian English, they are also called “trash and treasure markets.”

In the United Kingdom, they are known as car boot sales if the event takes place in a field or car park, as the vendors will sell goods from the boot (trunk) of their car. If the event is held indoors, such as a school or church hall, then it is usually known as either a jumble sale, or a bring and buy sale. 

In Quebec and France, they are often called Marché aux puces (literally “flea market”).

While flea markets have operated for millennia, the origin of the term is disputed. According to one theory, the Fly Market in 1700s New York City, located at Maiden Lane near the East River in Manhattan began the association. The land on which the market took place was originally a salt marsh with a brook, and by the early 1800s the “Fly Market” was the city’s principal market. The first recorded appearance in English that the Oxford English Dictionary lists, from 1922, makes reference to this origin.

A second theory maintains that “flea market” is labelled as such because the items sold were previously owned and well-used and supposedly contained fleas.

My favorite flea markets are year-round secondhand book stores. No little bloodsuckers in those pages!

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