SB Flea Market reopens to niche crowd
The Santa Barbara Flea Market was closed for months until Thursday, when 50 or so vendors unloaded at the Earl Warren Showgrounds to buy and sell a variety of goods.
There were a couple produce stands, a food truck, fresh cut flowers and a large selection of plants for sale along one side. It looked like a small farmers market.
Then, spread out in rows were folding tables, tents and vans holding both new and old items. A handful of shoppers milled around, purchasing knick knacks and large furnishings.
Some booths curated a particular look. Valerie’s Vintage & Supply Co., a Santa Ynez store that extends to the flea markets, had a feminine yet rustic feel.
Valerie Madeira, the booth’s owner, said she usually just participates in the Ventura Flea Market on Wednesdays, but it’s closed. She was disappointed in Santa Barbara’s flea market.
“It definitely needs more people here,” she said. “Santa Barbara should have an amazing flea market.”
But it was early in the day, and she said her pop-up shows in Santa Barbara always get off to a slow start.
Bima Pimentel said the Ventura market is usually three times as large as the Santa Barbara market.
“When Ventura was open, I was there every week,” she said. “It was rocking and rolling.”
Thursday’s market was very calm at 9 a.m., an hour after it opened.
Ms. Pimentel’s booth was a collection of vintage items: some coffee tables, a rug, pottery and a couple paintings. She doesn’t have a business name or work toward a distinct look, but she enjoys participating and selling fun pieces.
“You don’t even have to buy anything. It’s just a fun way to shop and see what everyone has,” she said.
When the vendors arrive, they set up and browse one another’s booths. They often buy things from one another to sell later.
“I think of this place like a casino,” Robert Sprout, owner of a booth called Toy Box, said. “We’re like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna buy this and see if I can make some money back plus more.’ It feels kind of like gambling.”
That morning, he spent $80 on vintage Star Wars memorabilia from another dealer. He smiled and held up a small figurine, enjoying his flea market find.
His booth is a collection of vintage toys alongside old copies of Life Magazine and National Geographic.
“People are buying my stuff finally because they need to feel cheered up or nostalgic,” Mr. Sprout said.
His eBay shop has been four times as busy as usual, he said. But he likes selling at swap meets best, as he’s been doing for the last six years.
“If you do it as long as I do, you have buyers. Like, I know a guy who always buys my violins and who buys all my drums. I know a guy who buys all my clowns; he checks in,” he said.
“You start to build regulars, which is kind of cool. You know, it’s like a real store,” he said.
Mr. Sprout sells at the swap meets in Santa Clarita, San Fernando, Ventura and Santa Barbara. He brings more toys during the weekend flea markets because he sees more families.
For the Santa Barbara Flea Market, he brings vintage items he thinks store owners and professional pickers would enjoy.
Like a vintage sail boat compass he sold to a customer during the interview, he only charged $10 and told him that if he filled it back up with kerosene, it could sell for $100 online.
His claim checks out. His other items were priced inexpensively, as well. The vintage magazines sold for a dollar a piece.
He chatted with customers, asking them about their shirts or what they were looking for. He didn’t complain about the disappointing crowd; he was just happy to be back.