There is a certain, unmatchable thrill in finding a good bargain. Perhaps the enjoyment dates back to our earlier years as hunters and gatherers or perhaps a cheap find appeases our current sense of greed and consumerism; get a lot of stuff for little effort or money. There’s nothing quite like it. Whatever the reason, bargain hunting at flea markets is a past time enjoyed by both the retired of every community, and a bit closer to home, my own family.
So entering yet another flea market near my sister’s apartment is nothing new. Oddly enough, it’s finding the flea market that gives us the most trouble. Because of my compulsion to get an orange slushie from every gas station I happen to pass, my sister Jessica and I end up getting off the bus early and find ourselves at the back of the large bingo hall where every Sunday tables are arranged and amateur merchants set-up shop.
I know that going around the building to the right will bring us to the entrance of the flea market, but going to the right seems quicker. Maybe it is curiosity, or that hunter instinct is already kicking in, but we decide to take the path unknown. Wrong decision! We walk down a narrow alleyway. A chain-link fence runs to our left, while the large ominous building casts a looming shadow across our path on our right. Upon reaching the other side of the building we can see our destination, which happens to be across two fences and up a grassy hill. The only way to go is up a set of stairs at the top of which people yell in a foreign language. We choose to return to the back of the building and start over.
After this minor hiccup in our shopping plans, we make it to the entrance of the market. A young man plays fiddle at the door and an older man with a thick black beard exclaims, “Get in there quick! People are already taking down their tables!” as we walk by.
Now, about this flea market. As I’ve moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, it’s a Sunday market on the corner of Robie and Young Street just outside of the downtown. But being in a different city doesn’t make shopping at the market any less of a universal experience. It’s the sort of flea market that every city and town across Canada has. A large room, filled with an array of colorful characters with tables and shelves overflowing with merchandise ranging from children’s toys to DVDs to old paintings that only the most eccentric would hang in their homes. Because we’re in Nova Scotia, not to be stereotypical, there are also miniature lobster traps and glowing lighthouses for purchase.
As Jessica wanders ahead, I begin to peruse the various tables. I flip through rows of DVDs and VHS tapes in pursuit of a rare find, but nothing jumps out. A game of Trivial Pursuit: Pop Culture Edition catches my fancy for a moment, but without a marked price and with a particularly intimidating looking vendor I move along. I may be 6’2 with a big beard of my own, but I’m a pussycat deep down.
I finally catch back up with Jessica, who is examining a small wooden duck. For some reason, Jessica has always had a special place in her heart for ducks and a special place on her ankle for a duck tattoo.She says it’s because they represent a life of freedom to her, while dad joshes her about his weekly trips to the camp during the “season” every winter. In any case, this wooden duck has in the moment captured her imagination. While flawed, with a chip on its tail feather, it’s still a duck and Jessica has no intention to leave her new feathered friend behind.
“How much for the duck?” she asks the balding man behind the table. He steps forward, and plucks the duck out of her hand. He examines it from butt to beak before handing it back to her.
“Five dollars,” he answers. I grimace at the surprisingly high price for such a small trinket, but Jessica reaches into her pocket and pulls out two toonies.
“I have four,” she counters. There is a long drawn out moment of silence. The man hesitates before lifting the duck from her hands once again. He looks at it as if it was made of solid gold and he’d found it in tomb of King Tutankhamen himself. Jessica adds, “It has a chip in the tail and four dollars is all I have on me.”
He final puts it back in her hand and sticks out his own hand for her change. “Want a bag?” he asks. Jessica shakes her head and we walk away with a new treasure.
As we head back toward the exit, the couple with a table full of baked goods lifts up their large yellow sign, which reads “SPECIAL!” I walk over to make my own purchase of some caramel squares for half price.
Yes, there’s nothing quite like hunting for a bargain. While this trip had only a few minor successes, the experience is worth the couple of hours and few dollars spent on a Sunday morning. For this reason, I do suggest taking some time and checking out your local flea market.
As we leave, my sister smiles and tells me that I should end this article with the line, “When flea marketing, you may not find what you’re looking for, but you’ll always find something.” Isn’t that the way it always is!