Andrea Van Groningen is owner of The Avenue Home Staging in Fresno. She will be a first-time vendor at the upcoming Old Town Flea Market. Photo contributed.
Written by Breanna Hardy
The Old Town Flea Market is back after not holding its twice-yearly event since 2019.
Karen Chisum, owner of clothing boutique The Foundry, said the Old Town Flea Market was born out of a desire to support small businesses and shine a spotlight on handmade goods.
Chisum opened The Foundry — an 800-square-foot boutique at 601 Pollasky Ave. — in 2012. She said people would approach her to consign their products in her shop. In order to promote a wide range of small businesses and shop owners who hand make their products, she hosted the first Old Town Flea Market in 2013.
Since then she has expanded The Foundry, moving the store’s location twice and opening The Foundry Cooperative, a collection of products made from artisans in the Central Valley.
The Old Town Flea Market is a reflection of that growth. The vendor space is fully maxed out this year with more than 100.
The flea market would have to expand into the parking lot to accommodate more vendors, she said.
The last time the semiannual event was held was in November 2019, just months before Covid-19’s global spread. Planning its return has been problematic. It has since been canceled three times — May 2020, November 2020 and again in May 2021.
“We were all hopeful that by May of 2021 we would be back to some kind of regular normalcy, and we really just didn’t know. Things were so up in the air,” Chisum said.
All vendors are small businesses and they have to invest in their products and materials. If they are vintage shoppers, they invest their money in their inventory and don’t have the resources to drop everything.
The flea market has several consistent vendors year after year that like to be in the same spot. Many are used to being “vendor neighbors” and look forward to it as a reunion twice a year. It’s a supportive community.
“They’re so excited to be coming back,” Chisum said.
Alana Little, owner of Make Pie Not War, a handcrafted jewelry business, said vendors depend on this event financially and relationally.
“It was just kind of sad because a lot of us are friends so there was that disconnect of not being able to see our friends,” Little said.
She has been a consistent vendor at the Old Town Flea Market. Many pre-pay for the booth space, so due to cancellations the fee kept rolling over to the next scheduled events.
Some returning vendors are nervous to do a big show like this again after going without it for nearly two. But most are very excited, she said.
“It does have a large reach,” she said.
Little designs her booth differently every year, but this year will focus the aesthetic on positivity and community, she said.
“People are more excited and more expecting from us as vendors, so I personally am going to try to live up to that excitement and expectation,” Little said.
Some long time vendors moved out of state or retired, and there are a few who have gotten busier with their primary business, she said.
On the other hand, the flea market will welcome new faces this year as a result of innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities during the pandemic.
“We have new people that have started businesses during Covid,” Chisum said.
Andrea Van Groningen, owner of The Avenue Home Staging in Fresno, is a first-time vendor, but started her interior staging business seven years ago.
The business started when her husband, who is a real estate agent, listed a friend’s home. She had the idea of decorating the home with a few pieces of art and furniture and the home sold soon after.
She received exciting feedback from realtors who showed the home.
“What is it called that I just did, because it worked,” Van Groningen said.
She called around to local home staging businesses, and the consensus was that she wouldn’t be able to make money doing this because it takes so much inventory and storage capacity. Several years later, she is making a profit from her work.
“I love making a house a home,” Van Groningen said. “This year alone we’ve staged 115 houses.”
The buyer also has the option to purchase the decor with the home.
For customers who aren’t buying a home right now, she offers interior styling sessions and once-yearly warehouse sales to clear out old inventory.
In preparation for the Old Town Flea Market, she and her husband are going to Texas to pick up antique furniture and home decor from a renowned, 10-mile long antique show called Round Top. It draws people worldwide, she said.
“It’s kind of like a designer’s dream,” Van Groningen said.
Shawn Miller, business development manager for the City of Clovis, said the town reaps economic benefits from the event, even though it’s a private, for-profit event operated by Chisum.
“They’re very careful about who they select,” Miller said.
The Old Town Flea Market is unique in that it’s not a street festival like most events in Clovis. It’s typically held at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds.
“The circulation is three time the value of just spending each dollar as it comes in,” said Miller.
Typically people who come for the events spend money on gas and surrounding restaurants or coffee shops. That then gets circulated to the stores, then to employees. Those employees then spend their money in town.
“It’s a real healthy thing for the community,” Miller said.