Vendors make the trek Thursdays to Earl Warren Showgrounds for a swap meet with a community feel
The Earl Warren Showgrounds Flea Market is one of few places in Santa Barbara where shoppers can buy vintage rugs, collectible trinkets, plants, gems and fresh fruit all at the same place.
Vendors are waiting for the Thursday market to catch more eyes as they look for places to sell their finds.
Artemis Newton is one of those loyal vendors staying patient for more people to try the swap meet she says feels like home.
She drives every week to the flea market in Santa Barbara from Los Angeles and says she feels different the moment she can see the water along Highway 101. The swap meet held Wednesdays in Ventura is better-known, but she is hopeful for the slowly growing Santa Barbara market.
“It’s a family-oriented area, but, I mean, people come here from all walks of life,” she said.
Ms. Newton likes the community feel and even knows the names and ages of the other vendors’ dogs, she said, pointing at a neighboring van with a puppy.
She used to sell at flea markets periodically while selling in a storefront in Los Angeles, but the pandemic’s constraints made the shop infeasible, she said.
Glenn Corning, another one of Thursday’s vendors, also once sold in a store. It was called “Random,” but now he does something he calls “Vandom” — where his collection roams with him in his cargo van.
He also sells in Ventura on Wednesdays, and he is a regular at Santa Clarita’s flea market, too. And Sunday he’s going to try out the Topanga Vintage Market at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, which is known to amass over 180 dealers.
“That’s where I take my good stuff,” he said.
Thursday, he set out rows of books in front of his van: a book on Shakespeare, women’s erotica, a kid’s Spanish learning book and “Gone with the Wind.” He priced them at $1-$3.
Mr. Corning wasn’t shy about the source of his books: recycling bins. He said many recycling plants don’t take books, so he gets stacks of them for free.
He’s a history buff, so perhaps books were a natural commodity for him. But they also provided helpful income when smartphones interrupted his dominance in auctions.
The markets provide enough for him to live and explore, but COVID-19 put a pause to swap meets for months. During that time, he’d set up shop in front of a vacant commercial building. He didn’t see traffic officers patrolling, so he never was told to move.
He dreads packing up his merchandise at the end of the day. To him, the enjoyable part of the flea market is conversation.
Shoppers know Mr. Corning by name.
“See you next week,” a pair of customers told him.
Lisa Mathiasen, a 30-year volunteer for Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP Cats, for short), said she always sees someone she knows at the flea market.
She stood behind tables of homegoods and pet supplies. Behind her, hung a large ASAP Cats flag.
She spends her Thursdays in the sunshine selling donated supplies to raise money for the Goleta shelter.
“The last couple of years, people were hunkered down at home during COVID. They were cleaning out their houses. And so we started doing some yard sales, and people started to bring in stuff,” she said.
In 2021, she participated in a few flea market Thursdays and held some yard sales. The fruits of her labor totaled $13,588 for the cats.
“It’s been quite profitable. And you know, I have fun doing it,” said Ms. Mathiasen, the owner of four cats.
Ms. Newton’s cat also helped inspire her flea market collection. Her booth features a variety of items but most prominently sells jewelry.
She said her cat’s interest in jewelry, dipping paws into bags of necklaces, drew her to the accessories.
Her booth stands out with dress forms adorned in brooches. The sparkle pulls shoppers in as they peruse the shiny pins.
“People right now, in this economy, are no longer buying new stuff,” Ms. Newton said. “They’re buying everything that is old, and they can use to be refurbished or anything. And it looks fantastic.”
Shoppers young and old were strolling through the rows of the flea market Thursday. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real.