Flea markets remain popular even in Internet age

Sunday, September 29, 2013 | 5:22 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Even in the age of eBay and Craigslist, there is still room for flea markets.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that in the last few weeks alone, two flea markets have popped up around the St. Louis area.

The endurance of flea markets is a testament to the fact that some people simply want to touch and see things before they make the purchase. Perhaps it also speaks to the overwhelming volume of items on the Internet.

Then there's that sense of discovering just the right item in a marketplace.

One of the flea markets new to the St. Louis region, in St. Peters, is traditional. Shoppers can find snowman-themed candle holders, cheap purses, sunglasses, baseball cards, random old things from attics or basements. That one is the I-70 Shoppers Fair in St. Peters, open year-round on the weekends.

The second, in the city's Central West End neighborhood, is something of an upscale version of the old flea market. Modeled after the Brooklyn Flea in New York, the CWE Flea is a bimonthly experiment that began earlier this month with about a dozen vendors selling things such as handmade jewelry, bath products and clothing.

The arrival of the latest two entrants doesn't mean things are easy for flea markets. The long-running Pevely Flea Market closed a couple of years ago amid financial difficulties. The flea market in Fairmont City, Ill., still attracts about 60 vendors on weekends but has struggled through the recession, manager Bob Crutchley said.

"It's getting better," he said. "But it's nowhere near where it was five or six years ago."

Ted Stewart, an organizer of the I-70 Shoppers Fair in St. Charles County, isn't concerned about online competition.

"There's nothing that beats going to a flea market and being able to look at the products," he said. "Besides, not everything is sold on the Internet. Some of the items are too small in dollar amount to make it worth the while."

Many of his customers are people looking for work and for ways to make ends meet, Stewart said.

One of the vendors is Hank Pilliard of St. Louis County.

"There's always a market for this stuff," he said, referring to his mix of old postcards, knives, home decor and vintage kitchen devices.

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