When I visit every popular local market in Salt Lake City, I become more aware that virtually all of the vendors are white men.
The urban flea market in July was more diverse than many markets I’ve visited, but it still seemed to consist mainly of white people. As a community program, flea markets need to be more accessible to vendors who are marginalized, especially women of color. We must create space for these groups and support them in local markets.
Flea Market History
Immigrants introduced flea markets to the United States for opportunities that were otherwise unavailable to them. Decades later, flea markets became popular among the middle and upper classes. However, he used these for entertainment purposes rather than out of financial necessity. The media praised these markets, while law enforcement targeted and shut down flea markets that served immigrants. This has continued in recent years with immigration and customs enforcement threatening to raid flea markets.
Sellers should understand the history of flea markets. They must protect the core purpose of flea markets, supporting the community and what others try to push out.
At the Urban Flea Market, some vendors sold clothing at high prices, while other vendors’ items were cheap. Thrift gentrification is the practice of buying goods at thrift stores and then reselling them at higher prices. This makes the items less accessible to buyers and increases competition among sellers, making the point of a flea market disappear altogether.
Demographics in Local Markets
Some vendors are working to make products accessible to the community. I spoke with 11-year-old Roma, who started a slime business called Little House Slimes in November with her mom, Lulu. Lulu stresses the importance of increasing access to products sold in local markets, starting with their own markets. She explained that slime is a multi-sensory toy that has mental health benefits for anxiety and ADHD.
“My ultimate dream is to be successful enough that we can donate slime, that we can make slime more accessible, that we can be in markets that serve a wider community, not just the East Side. To make sure everyone gets mud, not just those who can afford it,” she said.
We also need to make it more accessible to be a seller. Roma noticed that markets like the Salt Lake Downtown Farmers Market are predominantly white.
“I see more and more ethnic vendors coming out, which I think is great because I think we need more diversity,” Roma said. “We are Latina. We are feeling very proud. because you don’t really see a lot of people who are ethnic [minorities] starting a business.”
I also talked to Tavia Milburn, an African American salesperson who has a small business making and selling items like mugs and car accessories. Milburn said she can count on one or two hands the number of other African American salespeople she’s worked with. According to Milburn, one of the biggest barriers to vending is cost.
“Luckily I usually get my money back and make a profit,” she said. “But for some, it’s hard to see because the base fee itself can be around $200, and then you have to promote it, you have to get your inventory.”
Since starting a small business is expensive, it is more accessible to upper class individuals. These people already have more privileges and are often white. Because flea markets were created by and for marginalized groups, we should work to make them more accessible to these groups. We can start by promoting and supporting their work.
what should the market be like
Sellers are “the building blocks of any community,” Lulu said. We should focus on the community aspect of local markets, supporting each other instead of being competitive and focused on making high profits.
Milburn said she would like to see more marketing to different demographics.
“Coming from an African American background, none of my family members, the older generation, had really heard of bazaars,” she said. “So now I’ve opened that door for my family and other generations of my family.”
There are some flea markets specifically for people of color, women, and gay people. Roma mentored the Strength in Shades Market, a Utah marketplace that supports small businesses owned by women and people of color. Salt Lake Mutual Aid also has similar community resources.
All markets in Utah should take note of these organizations, especially the Downtown Farmers Market and the Urban Flea Market. They should focus their efforts on inclusivity and creating space for diverse vendors to find success and build relationships. Those who benefit from local markets should support and promote small businesses owned by women and people of color.