Etymologists often debate the origin of the term “flea market.” According to some, the bazaars take their name from the famous Marchés aux Puces – literally, “market of fleas” – a marketplace of second-hand goods in Paris where the wares were all too often infested with vermin. Others maintain that the term is a linguistic perversion of the Vallie or Fly Market in revolutionary-era Manhattan.
Regardless of what camp you’re in, most people can agree on one thing: Despite its antiquated roots, the flea market is alive and bustling still.
Oklahoma is home to countless flea markets of all types, from the sprawling stalls of Old Paris Flea Market in Oklahoma City to weekly swap meets at dusty country crossroads. And with no two markets exactly alike, the variety is a huge lure for customers throughout the state.
Some markets, such as Tulsa Flea Market, cater to a certain clientele. This bazaar, operated on Saturdays at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, is renowned for specializing in hard-to-find antiques, collectibles and vintage memorabilia. This specialty niche sets Tulsa Flea Market apart from many competitors.
“It’s the exception to the flea market rule,” says Melissa Larry, who co-owns and operates the flea market alongside her mother, Patsy.
“We have the luxury of being choosy with our vendors, and we’ve got a great core group of customers and vendors who have been with us since 1972.”
K.O. Jose runs his own unique establishment: the Cherokee Flea Market, one of the state’s oldest. The bazaar is located in Smith Village, a tiny township nestled in the midst of the Oklahoma City metro. Jose, who has been the operator of the flea market for nearly 27 years, calls his meet “an old-fashioned outdoor flea market” where vendor space can still be purchased for the negligible price of $5 to $10. In the summer months – the market’s peak time for business – vendors at the Cherokee Flea Market attract customers looking for rare goods and vendor services, such as hard-to-find tools and onsite lawnmower repair.
But what, after hundreds of years in existence, has kept buyers coming back to these establishments? The answer, much like the origin, is a matter of opinion.
“It’s fun, social thing,” Larry says. “It’s a friendly atmosphere. For a lot people, it’s their Saturday morning ritual. They come out, meet friends and enjoy good shopping together. And you never know what you might find.”
Like Larry, Jose agrees that part of the allure of the flea market is the possibility of stumbling upon those rare and coveted items.
“There are lots of things customers cannot find any other place,” he says.
He also cites the typically reasonable prices of flea market wares as an attraction to attendees.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’re likely to find something at any one of Oklahoma’s numerous flea markets.