The Internet auction site e-Bay has millions of items for sale, but a pair of new local flea markets have a few things the online giant never will, like the sound of live music, the smell of food cooking outdoors and the grip of a vendor’s handshake sealing the deal for a used blender or a recycled Mardi Gras costume.

These are among the regular and irregular attractions of Elysian Fleas and Broad Flea, two markets that emerged independently this fall in the Faubourg Marigny and Mid-City, respectively. Each resembles a mini-festival of grassroots retail, art and crafts, food and music.

“We encourage all of that; it makes it much more of a community event and helps draw people here,” says Cree McCree, vendor coordinator for Elysian Fleas, a board member of Broad Flea and the godmother of the New Orleans flea market community.

Broad Flea got its start last year as a monthly arts and crafts market called the Broad Street Bazaar, a project of Broad Community Connections, a nonprofit working to revitalize Broad Street. Last month, the market was re-launched in the same location – the parking lot of a shuttered Robért grocery – but with a new name and a broader range of vendors. Around the same time, McCree and local artist Reese Johanson debuted Elysian Fleas in a courtyard beside the studio of artist James Michalopoulos.  

McCree says it’s no coincidence these markets are coming together during tough economic times.

“People are looking to make money by recycling merchandise, so they become vendors, and others are trying to save money by bargain-hunting, which is what flea markets offer,” she says.

McCree says sales of her book Flea Market America, a manifesto on flea marketing, typically rise during economic downturns. Interest is once again rising, and McCree was recently named “Flea Queen” for Planet Green, the Discovery Channel’s sustainable living Web site, where she writes about the flea market economy and recycled fashion.

“The whole thing about flea markets is that they’re affordable shopping adventures. You never know what you’re going to find,” says McCree. “And there’s something about discovering relics of your own past, especially with so much churning of our pop culture. Proust had his Madeleine and Americans have their Brady Bunch lunchboxes.” 
Elysian Fleas is held the third Saturday of the month (Nov. 21) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 527 Elysian Fields Ave. Broad Flea is held the second Saturday of the month (Nov. 14) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 300 N. Broad St.

– I.M.