Flea markets: For the trendiest shopper

By JMarie Mitchell
Delta Digital News Service

Across Northeast Arkansas there seems to be a phenomenon that is slowly changing the way people shop.

Labeled as “upscale flea markets or boutiques” these shops are no longer just for the occasional shopper; these markets are becoming essential for consumers, offering them everything from farm fresh eggs and garden produce to handmade items, repurposed furniture and one of a kind art.

1_Connie_dishes

Connie Wright, left, shows sisters Marsha Coleman and Nena Johnson a set of vintage dishes. Coleman said the dishes were exact replicas of a set their father had purchased for their mother when they were newlywed.

Connie Wright, owner of The Front Porch Flea Market located in Oak Grove, says when she opened in 2013 she never dreamed how amazing her business would be.

“Six days out of seven I walk through those doors and say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this store,'” she said.

Wright said flea markets of today are more like a mom-and-pop general store offering a little bit of everything.

“You should see our tool area,” she said. “It’s like walking into a hardware store.”

The only difference she notes is that her isles are filled with not only new items but vintage ones too. Customer Kenneth Pullen agrees with her as he pays for a roll of black electrical tape.

“Why fight crowds? You can buy anything here,” he said. “More reasonably priced too.”

It’s like a small-town community gathering — every day, Wright said. The store, which has a farmhouse feel, hosts 25 vendors, most whom have been with Wright since the business opened.

“If they are happy, they will stay as vendors and as customers,” she said.

Trella Moore of Beach Grove said she was a vendor with The Front Porch Flea Market, but only gave up her vendor booth because it became difficult for her to keep it stocked.

“I loved it,” Moore said. “It was relaxing and fun and I made a little extra money. But working full-time in a factory made it difficult to get out and find stuff for it. I ended up giving it up.”

Moore said she has regretted giving it up and now has her name on the flea-market’s vendor waitlist. “Until then, I’ll have to settle for just being a customer and a friend.”

Wright keeps bluegrass music playing in the background and offers free coffee and apple cider to customers: “Coffee’s always hot and cider is always great.” Many times, regulars travel for miles for the fellowship and to enjoy an old-fashioned visit.

Flea markets just offer things you can’t find anywhere else, Wright said. An example of this occurred when two women purchased a set of vintage dishes for their mother. The dishes identically matched a set their dad bought for their mom when they were newlyweds.

“We wanted to do something nice for our mother,” Marsha Coleman said, explaining that their father had recently passed away.

Tonya Wray noted today’s flea markets are becoming more and more of a mini-mall, offering a little bit of everything, including hard-to-find items.

“Something for everyone and usually with a more unique shopping experience than you will find at retail stores,” Wray said.

Wray, who owns The Rocking Rooster in Paragould with her husband Tom, said they decided to open their 5,000-square-foot building in 2016.

“I had a job I hated and a flea market booth I loved,’ she said. “So, I quit my job and took the plunge. Not regretted it.”

Wray said flea markets offer something a little different, going that extra step, personalizing as much as possible.

“I knew I wanted to offer an eclectic mix of home décor, upscale furniture and boutique items,” she said. “I wanted to also bring back that personalized shopper experience.”

To obtain this goal, she markets heavily on Facebook, then holds stuff for clients who see something they like. Wray also keeps a list. The list is items people want her to keep an eye out for and largely consist of trendy, upper scale items and décor.

Wray says more people, old and young seem to be shopping at flea markets. Many are people she would never have considered to be flea-market shoppers.

“I have especially noticed a big growth in the younger clientele,” she said. “They seem to be looking for mid-century items and one-of-a-kind pieces.”

No matter the reasoning behind the growth of these stores, from an economical viewpoint, prices are obviously better and it’s a sustainable market, Wray said. She keeps around 50 booths and does consignments. She says many of her vendors also offer custom items like handmade soaps and embroidery.

Peggy Walker offers both items in her booth. Walker, a high school math teacher, said the booth gives her a place to sell her embroidery and crafts along with her children’s outgrown toys, books and clothes. Walker said she often finds items for her home and family at the flea market.

“Recycle and reuse when possible,” she said.

When some people think of flea markets, they think of stores filled with junk or cheap stuff others don’t want. Because of this, Wray says she wishes she had not put the flea market at the end of her store’s name.

“A lot of my regular customers don’t do flea markets,” she said.

Darla Adlong, owner of the Briar Rose Boutique of Jonesboro, said she purposely didn’t attach flea market to her store’s name.

“I didn’t want to give the impression of a flea market,” she said.

Adlong does have vendor booths, but says her store is best known for art, trendy repurposed items and one-of-a-kind items.

Flea market or not, shopper Gail Pringle of Success said she sees stores like these as treasure troves full of goodies waiting to be discovered. Pringle said she loves looking at everything vintage, especially dishes.

“Love the thought that every piece has its own history,” she said.

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(all photos by JMarie Mitchell)

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