Lileks: The flea market makes a comeback in Minneapolis

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2013 - 6:08 PM

Flea markets will be back this summer in Minneapolis, thanks to a City Council decision. Miss them? You’re old: They’ve been illegal for 60 years.

Yes, illegal. If a jumble of junk is sold in a structure doing business as a reseller of previously owned goods, it’s either Goodwill or an antique store. Legal. If it’s in a house where someone recently passed, it’s an estate sale. Legal. If it’s outside, slammer time. Why were they banned in the early ’50s? Possible reasons:

• Juvenile delinquents were selling switchblades and Communism.

• Life magazine ran a story titled “Is Chipped Second-Hand Fiestaware Spreading Polio?” And that was all it took.

• Fear of an itinerant mystic selling people a monkey’s paw, which will grant three wishes, all of which will be fulfilled with an ironic twist. I wish for relaxed regulations on weekend outdoor junk sales! And so you shall have it — but it will be unseasonably cold every third Saturday.

• The boss wasn’t getting his cut — er, the city wasn’t able to tax the sales efficiently. I mean, once you let someone sell Uncle Henry’s collection of embroidered toilet-seat covers without reporting the income, well, it’s darn near impossible for the state to make accurate revenue projections.

You know, it could be the name. Flea Market Tiny Vermin Swapmeet. Bedbug-Infested Possession Redistribution. But the term actually comes from the Latin, fleatus, which meant “Grandma’s hideous long-necked ceramic cat statuette.” There are no fleas involved.

There can be something sad about the mounds of forgotten goods, you know. Your mom might have known that the faded ’40s photo was your grandma’s Great-Aunt Mildred. You don’t. Into the basket of old-timey pictures, 10 cents apiece.

On the other hand, there are marvelous things to be found, and every collector of stuff will cheer the appearance of flea markets. They’ll be as much of a part of the weekend urban delights as a Farmers Market.

Why not combine them? A Farmers Flea Market. Vintage vegetables! Antique flowers! You could probably even sell fleas. As long as they’re cage-free with no antibiotics, of course.

James Lileks

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