The History of Flea Markets

history of flea markets an old market

The History of Flea Markets

Flea markets—also called swap meets or bazaars—are a meeting of individuals with items to sell and those who are looking to buy or barter.  Most items are used or homemade, and prices are typically low.  Some flea markets expand to include fresh produce and plants.  While they are commonplace now, they have a rich history.

The First Flea Markets

Flea markets are not solely an American concept.  They have roots in places such as India, Bangladesh, and China.  There are several theories concerning where the term “flea market” was coined.  Some believe the phrase dates back to the 18th century and the rise of the “Fly Market” in New York.  Most believe, however, that the term originated around 1860 in Paris.  The Emperor Napoleon III decided to construct row houses to line the streets.  Shop owners were forced out of their shops and into the streets.  Stalls were built, and it was from there that they sold their merchandise.  The area was dubbed the marché aux puces, which, when literally translated, means flea market.  It is said that this name was used because of a parasite infestation that plagued all of the upholstered furniture sold there.

The Evolution of Flea Markets

Flea markets made their way to America in the 1870s.  One of the earliest, Monday Trade Days, took place in Canton, Texas and began as a way to buy and sell horses.  It later evolved to a place where people could bring their own things that they wish to deal.  Soon, open-air markets were utilized to buy, sell, and trade goods.

Flea Markets Today

These days, flea markets can take place most anywhere.  In late spring, summer, and early fall, open-air flea markets are a common way to spend part of a weekend.  Year round flea markets are typically held indoors and are always filled with familiar faces.  Individual booths are rented to vendors that are looking to sell—or perhaps barter—used, new, or homemade items.  Flea markets have even been used as a tool for charity fundraising, wherein individuals from communities donate their used items to a group who then sells them in a flea market format.  Proceeds are then donated to the charity of choice.

Flea markets, swap meets, bazaars—they have a long history dating back to the 1800s.  No matter what name they go by, their set up is similar, and they have all been giving people, who range from entrepreneurs to those who just want to make a little extra cash, and opportunity to offer their new or used items for sale, barter, or trade.

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