Each Wednesday during the summer, vendors arrive at the Sandwich High School parking lot at 5 a.m. to display their wares. They have to set up early because bargain-hunters begin to arrive at 6 a.m.
“I think people that are flea market devotees sort of know the drill and they are ready to get out there hunting for their bargains as early as possible,” says Donna Burns says, executive director of the Sandwich Community School, which has has been organizing the flea market for 15 years.
Burns says this year’s market has attracted “an enthusiastic group of people who are really anxious to see what the vendors have.”
Vendor Peter Mach has been selling at flea markets for decades and says he will continue selling “to the day I die.” He considers himself “an urban archeologist.
“This is the way I look at it. Whether it’s a chair from the 1700s, a lamp from the 1930s, or a Hawaiian shirt from the 1950s, somebody sat down and designed that item first and they were influenced by the politics, music, and fashion of that day. So everything has a subliminal song and it’s all art.”
Mach used to run a retail store in New Orleans that sold “all kinds of stuff” including vintage clothing. Today he’s semi-retired and spends his days selling at antique shows and flea markets.
Sitting in front of his table filled with old dishes, an old fashioned phone, and a miniature steamship; he’s in his glory.
“I dream about this stuff, and I like it all, from Windsor furniture to Hawaiian shirts.”
Mach says people have been flocking to flea markets this year to buy old-fashioned furniture.
“I think that as things get more in turmoil in the economy and in the world people get more nostalgic,” Mach says. “Our economy’s in big trouble. This is worse than 1929. In 1929 we still had a backbone of industry. That industry is gone.”
Sandwich residents Linda McKane and Jean Kelley shop at flea markets to find older items not sold in stores. Before making a purchase, they haggle with vendors to get a better deal.
“We like to look and then if we find a good deal, we like to talk about the deal,” McKane says. She says the Sandwich Flea Market vendors are knowledgeable about their merchandise and often share interesting stories.
“You learn a little bit while you’re here. The dealers tell you about the stuff and then you just pick through it and believe what you think you should.”
Christine Johnson-Staub dropped by the flea market on a whim while she was waiting for her daughter to get out of day care. She says she was struck with nostalgia when she spotted a Muppet puppet she had as a kid. She plans to return to the flea market to buy vintage records for her brother and some items for her home.
“There’s nothing that I came here thinking I need but when you walk around you start thinking “That would look good in the entryway.”
Camille Buda has been selling antiques at the Sandwich Flea Market for 10 years. She says flea markets are “part of becoming an antique dealer.
“You have to have different outlets for your merchandise and you also have to find different places where you can purchase.”
Buda can’t sell her items for the same prices she does at antique shows. She says, “Because it’s a flea market, you have to expect buyers are looking for a deal and you have to lower your prices.”
For example, a vase that would normally sell for $35 could be purchased for as little as $5 at a flea market. Buda also sells antiques on Ebay but says customers prefer to buy at flea markets and antique shows. Unlike Ebay, she says those venues allow buyers to interact with dealers who know a lot about their merchandise.
Anne Moomey also sells her items on Ebay but says she prefers flea markets because “I like the people.” She says flea markets attract a different clientele that like to “touch and feel” the merchandise before they buy it.
Moomey has been selling at flea markets for 20 years and carries items she’s purchased from “every nook and cranny in New England.”
She says the Sandwich Flea Market has been a successful venue for her this year.
“You definitely go home with money in your pocket.”