Joe Jarvinen “wanted his garage back,” as his wife, Tracy, recalls it, and that was part of what led her to start the annual Anoka Fling Flea Market in the winter of 2009.
At the time, the Jarvinens’ garage was chock-full of antiques and collectibles they’d amassed through the years. As they sought ways to downsize, the Anoka couple started shedding pieces of their collection at local flea markets, antique stores and the like.
It turned out to be a fun side-job. That’s when the idea for an indoor market during the wintertime occurred to Tracy Jarvinen.
“Being antique dealers, we were always looking for a place to sell in the winter,” she said.
Now the Anoka Fling Flea Market fills that void. The market takes over the Knights of Columbus hall in downtown Anoka on the second Sunday of each month, October to April. The next sale is set for Dec. 8.
Although initially Jarvinen had wanted a wintertime flea market to participate in herself, these days she sticks to the producing side of things as opposed to selling. The space usually fills up, she said, adding, “I ran myself out of my own space.”
The market, which has had several locations since its inception, reflects her interest in antiques and collectibles.
A separate, craft-heavy market that also runs monthly in the winter began at the hall last year. “There was enough interest in crafting that it split into a separate event,” Jarvinen said.
Likewise, a larger summertime flea market sprang up at the same venue last year.
It helps that the city has plenty of antique stores, Jarvinen said. In some places, antique stores are disappearing, but it’s a thriving business in Anoka. Here, the business “seems to be holding its own and it’s actually growing,” she said.
‘It’s about the treasure hunt’
Each month, the market draws up to 30 vendors, a mix of people who “bring a bit of everything,” she said.
Purses, vintage glass beads, homemade jams and jellies, military artifacts, unused makeup and comics are just some of the types of goods that might surface at the market. A coupon-clipper sells lots of unopened merchandise while others dabble in something called “junking,” which is about reusing items to make something new.
Some people resell hardware that they think might be useful to somebody else. “I have a guy who does scrapping, going into houses and pulling out fixtures before houses are torn down,” Jarvinen said.
For many vendors, flea markets are easier to sell at than antique stores, which involve higher overhead costs. “You have to rent the space,” she explained.
At the flea market, vendors can rent a table or a booth for the whole season or specific dates. The market takes vendors on a rolling basis as space allows, she said.
Some people who take part in the market do this for a living, while others are just getting rid of things or trying to make a little extra cash. “For a lot of folks, this is a hobby,” Jarviven said, adding that she also works a full-time job for the state.
Similarly, in recent years, she’s seen more shoppers “trying to make their dollars stretch farther than they’ve ever had to,” she said.
That has brought a different crowd to flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales, she said.
Still, the Anoka market has its regulars who are shopping for specific collectors’ items, from G.I. Joe figures to airline memorabilia, she said.
Some are in the middle of do-it-yourself projects and are buying old windows and shutters and other items that can be repurposed, she said.
Whatever their reasons for coming to the market, “It’s about the treasure hunt. Those who are really passionate will turn over every rock trying to find that treasure they’re looking for,” she said.
Of course, Jarvinen can relate. When they’re not at the winter market, she and her husband collect and resell vintage motorcycles, Victorian-era goods and World War II military items. For her, “It all started with a vintage jewelry box,” she said.
A changing marketplace
Marty Dahl of Marty’s Antiques and Collectibles is in his third year at the market, where he shows up regularly.
Dahl, who peddles pocketknives, fish tackle, costume jewelry, toys, coins and more, has been making the rounds at local flea markets and antique shows for over 20 years.
“I was raised this way. It’s natural for me and I do enjoy it,” he said. It’s fun when “you see someone pick something up they’ve been looking for for a long time and they’re excited about purchasing it,” he said.
However, in recent years, the business has thinned out quite a bit. He blames a tough economy. “People don’t need to eat or sleep with what I sell. So the market’s down,” he said.
The antiques and collectibles business is always a moving target. “What sold a year ago isn’t what sells today,” he said. “You have to move with the climate. As the new collectors come, they’re younger and they collect different things from a different era.”
On top of that, he doesn’t see as many of the usual suspects as he once did — more sales are random — while serious collectors are homing in on the items they want most, he said.
Michelle Cadieux, a vendor at the market in October who specializes in toys from the ’30s through the ’50s, has observed similar trends. The demand for toys is down while action figures “are now even for a younger market,” she said.
Children who’ve grown up with video games and cellphones “want more out of a toy,” as opposed to a stationary object that has more visual appeal than anything else, she said.
These days, collectors tend to be older and more well off than they were in the past, she said.
With TV shows on the air like “Antiques Roadshow,” “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars,” people have gotten savvy about what their possessions might be worth, so “it’s harder to find good deals,” she said.
Additionally, with so many people posting their goods online, it turns out that many collectibles aren’t as rare as they once seemed.
Still, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned flea market, she said. “It’s a great way to support local that stays local.”
Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.