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From vintage to vogue, find it at the flea market

by Becky Harvey

As a child, my family was not super well-to-do. We didn’t do a lot of unnecessary or “pleasure” shopping. At that age window shopping was not fun, although I still don’t really like it because it just makes me want to buy something I probably can’t afford. There was always one place where a few of my allowance dollars would go a pretty long way. And as a kid, the volume of what I could get was probably more important than the quality, or even the purpose of what I was buying. Because of these facts, whenever my folks told me we were going to make a trip to the flea market, my brother and I would go into a frenzied little hoorah-shrieking dance of excitement.

Back then, a trip to the flea market meant paying a fifty cent entrance fee in order to open the doors to another world- one of wondrous and mysterious treasures. It was also a world filled with a lot of used junk that nobody could ever want, at least according to a naive ten- year old with a very limited grasp of what great, eclectic finds could be made in the midst of the piles of old hi-fi systems and used beta machines, Pyrex bowls and hubcaps.

Today, as a (ahem) middle-aged woman, flea markets are amazing and exciting places for a different reason. Gone are the days when I would buy as much as possible for the few dollars I had. These days, I am on the lookout for nostalgic things or super-duper bargains. Why would anyone spend forty dollars on a badminton set at a big chain store when for the same amount of money, one could get the badminton set, a pair of brand-new “readers,” a crackle-glass vase and beautifully framed painting? Flea markets are the way to go. Yard sales are great- don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t a constant.

The southern Worcester area is ripe with flea markets, and bargain-hunters who haven’t explored these sometimes hidden gems should take note. They may be located in innocuously-placed buildings with signs that seem to fade into the everyday landscapes by which we’re all constantly driving.

The first flea market I visited in my search for hidden treasures was Mona’s Flea Market & Emporium. It just so happened that they were celebrating their two-year anniversary on the day I visited. Mona Metro-Gagnon and her husband, Russ Gagnon, were kind enough to give me the back-story on the business and on how they got started. It was, it seemed, more out of convenience than anything else. The couple already owned the building at 65 Southbridge Street in Auburn. When Metro-Gagnon suggested they open a little store to “relieve themselves of some of their collected treasures,” the idea grew roots. What was once a furniture store which had been given up, was now a growing small business providing space for vendors to sell their goods. The economy was in a perfect position to breed such a business. Many people were looking for an inexpensive way to sell their unused items for cash in order to make ends meet, while others looked to find amazing deals on things they needed. It was like kizmet.

Metro-Gagnon opened her doors and began renting out spaces. She now has a number of permanent vendors who have been there basically since day one, but she also has many who come and sell for a day or a weekend or two. With some of the cheapest rental spaces around, she never really experiences too many empty booths. There are seven rooms with space for a hundred tables. Tables rent for only ten dollars and vendors can come in to set up Thursdays or Fridays.

Some of the permanent vendors at Mona’s include Lucind Broadard. She says that, as an “extreme couponer and shopper,” she can resell items at lower than retail price, making money for herself and saving money for her customers. Her booth consists of items both new and used.

From yard-sale-type merchandise to antique furniture to hand-crafted items, Mona’s has it all.

A short drive from Mona’s, in Dudley, is the “Dudley Do Right” Flea Market located in the historic Stevens Mill Building at Ardlock Place and Route 12. Mike Kaplan, property manager is, a self-dubbed “dyed-in-the-wool collector” and has been since the time he graduated high school in 1970. After years of running a highly-praised antique business in Boston, Kaplan offered to manage the building, owned by a friend, that was being routinely burglarized. He intended to create an area that would be like a “year-round mini-Brimfield” for collectors. His plan worked and now the flea market is absolutely filled with collections that are impressive to even the most seasoned collectors.

Celebrating five years of business, Dudley Do Right is open to permanent vendors and temporary ones alike. Spaces rent for thirty-five dollars per weekend or a hundred and twenty for four weekends. Daily rentals are also available for twenty-five dollars. Kaplan’s goal is to bring in all kinds of vendors and create something “different from any flea market anyone has ever seen.” With the tons of antiques and collectibles from nearly a thousand dealers in the winter and around three-hundred in the summer, he has achieved his goal.

The snack bar at Dudley Do Right is something of which Kaplan is very proud. Drinks, snacks, and full meals are available in the back of the market. Anyone who visits will need to replenish because there is just so much to see and buy. With rooms and rooms of goods, it truly takes a full weekend to see even part of what this flea market offers.

The lucky visitor might get a glimpse of Kaplan’s enormous personal collection of antiques, from toys to bikes to cars and more. Viewable to the classic toy lover, he has an gigantic tin-toy collection, behind glass. It is incredible. Also something that can be seen any time is the old car collection which Kaplan keeps on the road and running. Many of the cars are driven and parked out front for everyone to see. An incredible private collection of classic bicycles is kept behind locked doors, but Kaplan’s intense passion for antiques, which seethes from every pore in his body, and which drives the success of the business, is easily recognizable to anyone who walks the overflowing aisles at Dudley Do Right Flea Market.

Not as large as Kaplan’s baby, the Charlton Flea Market (previously the Auburn Flea) has been in business for ten years. Located just off of Route 20, next to Howlett Lumber, Paul and Jane Vautour run the well-established Charlton Flea and Self Storage. Jane Vautour says that visiting is like “taking a walk down memory lane, so come on in!”

The indoor market, located in building one is full of roughly seventy-five dealers and is open Sundays only from seven to three. Jane Vautor says that business has been really good and thriving since the start of the recession in 2008. “It’s sad when people have to sell in order to make ends meet, but the flea market gives people a place to both make money on things that they have but don’t need and get things they do need for a good price.” She proudly states that they offer “roughly” nine by nine foot spaces that come with free shelving and tables for a very reasonable price.  Indoor, permanent spaces, which come with free use of the outdoor space, is just thirty-five bucks for a Sunday.  Per diem spaces go for twenty dollars.  Outdoor spaces, which come with two tables, are only fifteen dollars.  She also prides herself on the fact that she gives free space to charities and other non-profits, so long as they call ahead. Of the seventy or so dealers, about sixty percent are regulars.  There is also a full kitchen that serves both breakfast and lunch, with a different special each Sunday, available for under five dollars.

The Charlton Flea Market offers an additional feature for sellers that some others don’t: the Group Shop (similar to a consignment area.)  Unlike the front building, the back building is open on both Sunday and Saturday.  The group shop areas are priced from twenty-five to one hundred and ten per month, but no commision is taken.  Currently the group shop is completely full, but Vautour says openings “do happen.”  She also runs another group shop in Palmer.  

Down in Douglas, there’s the Douglas Flea Market, which (also) operates both with vendors and consignment. Marlene Bosma runs her Flea in the only historic Dutch Hoop barn in the state. In the old barn, which was part of the long-running and very successful Bosma Dairy Farm, is where Bosma buys and sells in her two shops: one, a Brimfield-esque collectibles and antiques shop and another, “the Old Goat’s shop” that is a bit more of the same. Upstair, she runs a consignment shop where sellers set up and then fix-up every week or two. The fee to use her consignment services is between $25 and $75 per month.  Tables in the downstairs flea run between ten and sixty with a free set-up area outside included. Bosma’s been doing this for right about thirty years and is very proud of the great business that always seems to attracting new customers.

No matter which Flea you decide to attend, chances are that you will find something great at a fantastic price. I may have more money now as an adult, but I am still glad to find super deals. Those are definitely what you’ll find when you make the decision to visit one of our featured establishments.