The first time I visited the San Jose Flea Market was as a small child back in the 60’s, a primitive period in Earth history during which humans roamed outdoors together in small packs, called families, on the weekend.
How it was then
My own family pack always enjoyed going to the San Jose Flea Market; it was cheap entertainment and the hundreds of stalls were sure to wear us kids out as we roasted in the sweltering summer glaze of the converted parking lot. The market was a mostly amateur enterprise back then. Except for a few food stalls near the entrance, most of the booths were run by private sellers trying to make a little money out of their old junk; for us it was a hunt through the valley’s biggest garage sale.
How it is now
Today’s flea market is still a fun place to shop, though it’s now more like an upscale Dollar Store. New rims for your car, new car for your rims, toys for the kids, you can pretty much outfit your entire family from socks to tattoos, while strolling the miles of streets (yes, it’s so big the aisles are named as streets).
From the looks of the vendors nowadays, most are in it as a business, unless you figure they just happened to have 200 pairs of brand new sneakers in their closet. The downside is that too much of the market is populated by about a dozen generic types of booths: “The Toy Booth,” “The Ladies’ Underwear Booth,” “The Sock Booth,” “The Batteries and TV Antennas Booth,” etc.—just occupied by different sellers. All those different faces selling the same thing made me think it was an election year.
This is nostalgia on my part, but I miss the serendipity of looking through booth after booth of regular people’s own, well, crap mainly, until happening on a really nice Zippo lighter or baseball bat. It’s the difference between shopping at Costco and rummaging through your neighbor’s garage. It’s practicality versus fun.
In case you get hungry along the way, there’s also plenty to eat, with lots of food booths and snack bars throughout.
Of special interest is the farmer’s market. Old-timers to the market can recall when the most exotic food for sale was raw sugar canes. The 60’s flea market was one of the few places around that still sold the canes in their unprocessed, natural state. I remember gnawing those foot-long bamboo shoots. In those days, you really had to work for your tooth decay.
My favorite thing in the farmer’s market these days is the seller. Each shouts or sings their own song, pitching the wonder and quality of their fruits and vegetables. Rough tenors call from one side of the aisle, while young women with flutey altos serenade you from the other. These are the descendants of the street vendors of a century ago calling out their wares and it’s still just as magical.
So if those art and wine festivals that line your main street every summer have started to feel too arty and whiny for your tastes, try the San Jose Flea Market. It’s not very upscale, but it’s a whole lot cheaper and more fun. Now pass the churros and let’s go shopping.
If you go
San Jose Flea Market
1590 Berryessa Road, San Jose
Wednesday and Friday 6 am to sunset
Weekends 5 am to sunset
$5 weekend and $2 weekday parking includes admission
Flea Market Website