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Swap the Mall for Frugal Fun

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Writer Hao-Nhien Vu of LifeScript cites author Albert LaFarge’s book U.S. Flea Market Directory: A Guide to the Best Flea Markets in All 50 States for expertise in the establishment of flea markets, even down to the origins of the words. According to LaFarge, ‘flea market’ comes from the French phrase, marché aux puces, for the wingless parasites who feast on blood, since flea infestations were associated with used furniture. The terms ‘swap meet’ and ‘flea market’ seem to be used interchangeably depending on the region and personal definition of the individual markets.

I paid a visit to the Santee Swap Meet on Saturday and Sunday to conduct an immersion of a location where many turn to for their shopping experiences since the 2007 Great Recession. One might think that ‘swap meet’ means finding and buying personal items from sellers who are experiencing hard times.

One family selling gently used backpacks and personal items left a profound impression on me. When I asked the wife about the media portrayal of a mini depression today, she replied, “This is no where close to the Great Depression. If there’s still a line outside Starbucks, then you know its not bad but not ideal. We’re pretty fortunate compared to the past.”

Her husband agreed and pointed out that most of the young people today don’t know what hard work is anymore. In contrast, he worked since age 7 at his family’s businesses where he learned the values of working hard to reach your goals.

“This was back when gas was 23 cents a gallon,” he said. “I was working at my family’s gas station, working the register for several hours of the day. I didn’t complain about doing the work because everyone had to pitch in.” He advised me that life moves in different directions and one has to be flexible to be successful in life.

I interviewed shoppers on both days, one said she liked the thrill of hunting for the one item she never thought she’d find here. She also said that prices here were cheaper than retail stores with the same items. This buyer isn’t the only one with this opinion: out of 10 shoppers I interviewed, 70% of men and women said they shopped here for cheaper prices.
Regarding sellers, I discovered swap meet sales weren’t the desolate picture of hard times: 67% of men sold at swap meets as a business, most of their wares from estate, garage, and yard sales and in some cases, storage unit auctions. Women were 50/50 in terms of selling items as a business and selling personal items to clean out their homes.
Interested in finding your own treasure? Visit your local swap meet today!
Santee Swap Meet
10990 Woodside Avenue N.
Santee, CA
Hours: 6:30 AM-2 PM (Sat and Sun)
Admission: Sat $1, Sun $1.50
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