A flea market (or swap meet) is a type of street market that provides space for vendors to sell previously-owned (second-hand) merchandise. This type of market is often seasonal. However, in recent years there has been the development of 'formal' and 'casual' markets which divides a fixed-style market (formal) with long-term leases and a seasonal-style market with short-term leases. Consistently, there tends to be an emphasis on sustainable consumption whereby items such as used goods, collectibles, antiques and vintage clothing can be purchased.
Flea market vending is distinguished from street vending in that the market alone, and not any other public attraction, brings in buyers. There are a variety of vendors: some part-time who consider their work at flea markets a hobby due to their possession of an alternative job; full-time vendors who dedicate all their time to their stalls and collection of merchandise and rely solely from the profits made at the market. Vendors require skill in following retro and vintage trends, as well as selecting merchandise which connects with the culture and identity of their customers.
In the United States, the National Association of Flea Markets was established in 1997, which provides various resources for sellers, suppliers and buyers and also provides a means for suppliers and sellers to communicate and form affiliations.
Different English-speaking countries use various names for flea markets. In Australian English, they are also called 'trash and treasure markets'. In Philippine English, the word is tianggê from the word tianguis via Mexican Spanish. Despite common misconception, it is not derived from Hokkien. The word supplants the indigenous term talipapâ. In India, it is known as gurjari or shrukawadi bazaar or even as juna bazaar in Pune.
In the United Kingdom, they are known as car boot sales if the event takes place in a field or car park, as the vendors will sell goods from the 'boot' (or trunk in American English) of their car. If the event is held indoors, such as a school or church hall, then it is usually known as either a jumble sale, or a bring and buy sale. In Quebec and France, they are often called Marché aux puces, while in French-speaking areas of Belgium, the name Brocante or vide-grenier is normally used.
In German there are many words in use but the most common word is "Flohmarkt", meaning literally "flea market". In the predominantly Cuban/Hispanic areas of South Florida, they are called [el] pulgero ("[the] flea store") from pulga, the Spanish word for fleas. In the Southern part of Andalusia, due to the influence of Gibraltar English, they are known as "piojito", which means "little louse". In Chile they can be called persas or mercados persa ("persian market") and ferias libres, if mostly selling fruit and vegetables.
While the concept existed in places such as what are now India, Bangladesh, and China for millennia, the origins of the term "flea market" are disputed. According to one theory, the Fly Market in 18th-century New York City, located at Maiden Lane near the East River in Manhattan began the association. The land on which the market took place was originally a salt marsh with a brook, and by the early 1800s the "Fly Market" was the city's principal market.
A second theory maintains that "flea market" is a common English calque from the French "marché aux puces" which literally translates to "market of the fleas", labelled as such because the items sold were previously owned and worn, supposedly containing fleas. The first reference to this term appeared in two conflicting stories about a location in Paris in the 1860s which was known as the "marché aux puces".
The traditional and most-publicized story is in the article "What Is a Flea Market?" by Albert LaFarge in the 1998 winter edition of Today's Flea Market magazine: "There is a general agreement that the term 'Flea Market' is a literal translation of the French marché aux puces, an outdoor bazaar in Paris, France, named after those pesky little parasites of the order Siphonaptera (or "wingless bloodsucker") that infested the upholstery of old furniture brought out for sale."
The second story appeared in the book Flea Markets, published in Europe by Chartwell Books, has in its introduction:
In the time of the Emperor Napoleon III, the imperial architect Haussmann made plans for the broad, straight boulevards with rows of square houses in the center of Paris, along which army divisions could march with much pompous noise. The plans forced many dealers in second-hand goods to flee their old dwellings; the alleys and slums were demolished. These dislodged merchants were, however, allowed to continue selling their wares undisturbed right in the north of Paris, just outside the former fort, in front of the gate Porte de Clignancourt. The first stalls were erected in about 1860. The gathering together of all these exiles from the slums of Paris was soon given the name "marché aux puces", meaning "flea market", later translation.
There are flea markets in Japan. However, because the words "flea" and "free" are transcribed in the same Japanese katakana phonetic letters, they have mistaken them and started to use "free market" instead of "flea market" (Cf. the website of the Japanese Free Market Association).[a]
A vintage travel gear seller at Marché Dauphine, Saint-Ouen, the home of Paris' flea market
Vendor display at the Brooklyn Flea
Wolff's Flea Market in the United States
Flea market sign in Japan
Flea market (Leiden, end of the 19th century)