At flea markets, we walk through the rows of vintage and secondhand, and handmade and crafted, thinking about what to buy, what to pass on, maybe make judgements about what’s ridiculously amazing or ridiculously expensive. Either way, being so engulfed by the shear amount of stuff, perhaps we forget about the lives that went into creating or sourcing those things. Who is the person who is running a small, independent business, who woke up at the butt crack of dawn to get there, set up in the rain or the cold or the heat, and will later break it all down, and drive home, long after you’ve settled into your dinner?
We met Wendy of On The Fringe last while at the Hester Street Fair. She creates awesome coasters and trivets using original vintage maps and travel brochures, combining both vintage and handmade. We asked Wendy to share with us what her experience is like being a professional flea market vendor, so while her hands were busy working the decoupage, she gave us some phone time to learn a little bit more.
Where are you from and what’s your hometown?
I live in Hastings-on-Hudson but we are soon moving to Cape Cod. But I’m originally a New Yorker. Born and bred in the Bronx!
How did you get your start as a professional flea market vendor?
After 9/11, I started doing a lot of decoupaging, I guess as a form of therapy. Instead of going out, I would just stay home, and work on it. That’s when I was making lamps, tissue boxes, and larger things like that. I had been doing it for years and at some point, someone gave me a bunch of tiles they weren’t using anymore. That’s when I started making the coasters and trivets. I didn’t even use coasters then, but I do now!
About 7 years ago, my family said I should start selling at fleas and it just evolved from there. One day early on while at the Green Flea uptown (in Manhattan), someone asked me for New York themed coasters, and it sort of took off from there. So I think it was very customer driven. Plus, now my kids are old enough so that my husband and I can leave them to go to the markets and they won’t burn the house down!
So where do you sell?
We sell at a few places. I regularly sell at the Green Flea uptown in Manhattan, the Hester Street Fair downtown (which we love because my husband and I get to eat the food there!), and the Wellfleet Flea Market in Cape Cod which is held in the last drive-in in America and where I started.
We also do the Stormville Flea Market which is just holiday weekends – it’s a huge! And sometimes we do the market on Commercial Street in Provincetown, actually known as a “show.”
With all that selling, when do you have time to make? What is your week’s schedule like and is this your full-time job?
It’s been my full time job for three years now, I’ve been doing it for seven. I spend three days a week making, and two days selling, although in the summer it’s three days selling.
So, what’s the greatest challenge?
Trying to come up with new stuff. The travel brochure pieces that come as a pair are new as of a year and a half ago. Also waking up early is not that fun, but once I’m up, I’m up. I don’t mind the driving but the parking when I’m looking for a spot uptown is hard, but my husband helps with that. Oh, and the weather. That’s probably the hardest thing. I watch it carefully during the week and rain isn’t too bad, but three weekends in a row of rain is not good financially. There are indoor markets but I don’t like selling at those. I would rather be sitting outside in the cold winter than be indoors.
It’s work, you know? But it’s my work. As far as a job goes, I wouldn’t change it.
What’s your view on haggling?
I wish there was a book out there on flea market etiquette. When people try to negotiate on price, they don’t understand that when something is handmade, there is an extra value to it. A lot of the vendors I know that have been doing this for 30 years or more get so upset about it because most times, the prices are as low as they can price it to make money. Flea markets may be a fun activity for people but it’s also someone’s livelihood. People should come with a friendly attitude.
What do you like most about being a full-time, professional flea market vendor?
I love being at flea markets, I’ve always loved them, so the fact that this is my job is really great. It’s so exciting getting to be at the fleas as a seller but also getting to buy. I do some of my sourcing for brochures and maps while selling at fleas. Also, I love owning my own business. I can wake up at one in the morning and work if I want and no one can tell me not to. I’m a workaholic, but a workaholic on my own terms. I’ve also made some really good friends at flea markets. You just meet really interesting people and for the most part, the person who goes to a flea market is a person you get into a conversation with. Plus, it’s kind of like a date for me and my husband of 28 years. He comes to each one and it’s our time together.
Thanks for your time Wendy. We WILL come to the Fair! Want some more on Flea Markets? Check out Krrb picks for New York City, and some of our favorite friend’s favorite fleas. To catch more of Wendy, you can find her at Hester Street Fair on Saturdays, The Green Flea on Sundays, online at OnTheFinge.ws and at her Krrb corner at Krrb.com/OnTheFringe.