Does the world have a shopping capital? I'd argue that it does…
And it's Florida.
VISIT FLORIDA Shopping Insider Ginger Harris can fill you in on upscale boutiques, shopping malls and an overwhelming number of outlet stores that attract shoppers from around the world, but let me tell you about the unusual, bargain-based "shopportunities" you'll find at Florida's flea markets.
Not even 100 garage sales or 1,000 mega malls could display the varied inventory you'll discover. Hawked by itinerant dealers, working farmers, part-time collectors and professional merchants from across the Southeast (and, in the winter, from across America), a curious collection of super-affordable merchandise fill indoor booths and outdoor fields.
It's time to unfold your road map, fill up your wallet and prepare for a one-of-a-kind retail road trip.
Waldo Farmers and Flea Market
Where's Waldo? It's about 15 minutes northeast of Gainesville and it's where roughly 550 dealers set up shop each weekend. More than 40,000 shoppers flood into this small town, combing through six large buildings as they search for leather goods, DVDs, tools, clothing, kitchen gadgets, appliances, linens, produce and really anything else they think they need. If you're more inclined toward antiques, head next door to the Waldo Antiques Village. Open seven days a week, the village showcases 20,000 square feet of antique furniture, collectibles and knick-knacks.
17805 U.S. Highway 301, Waldo
Antique Village: 352-468-3111
Sumter County Farmers Market
How does a one-day-a-week market manage? Quite well actually. Shoppers swell Webster's population from 800 to more than 50,000 people every Monday. Actually two markets in one, the first is a massive flea and farmers market with 2,000 spaces and 1,500 dealers specializing in standard flea fare and farm fresh produce. Across the street, Webster WestSide showcases the goods of approximately 500 antiques and collectible dealers. This is where you can find anything from a Lone Ranger lunch box to original 1920s silent movie advertising slides, as well as Coke collectibles, pottery, militaria, 1940s kitchenware, patio furniture, African masks and many other things your mom probably threw away.
Highway 471, Webster
Webster WestSide: 352-793-9877
St. Augustine Flea Market
Midway between Daytona and Jacksonville, the St. Augustine Flea Market features 300 permanent dealers (and up to 100 drop-in dealers) who peddle rare books, records and rustic hardware alongside Indian collectibles, beads, fishing poles, citrus, instruments, sporting goods, computers and Art Deco furniture. You'll also find Cajun-boiled peanuts, pets, clothing, tools and anything that has enough room for a price tag. Tired? This is the rare market that includes an RV park. Hungry? In addition to restaurants, this market features a U-pick farm.
2495 SR 207 at I-95, St. Augustine
Market of Marion
Many locals have added this clean and well-stocked flea market to their weekly shopping schedule. Close to popular retirement community The Villages, the MoM in Belleview has more than 1,100 booths filled with impressive and affordable inventory. Drop by any Friday, Saturday or Sunday to stock up on tools, T-shirts, fashion, cell phones, office and home furnishings, artwork, produce, books and more. Be sure to check their calendar for special weekend swap and/or shop events that focus on a variety of subjects including military vehicles, guns, stamps, antique engines and – believe it or not – gourds. There's plentiful parking beside the covered pavilions so weather will never interfere with a good day of shopping.
12888 SE U.S. Highway 441, Belleview
Claiming the mantle "America's Largest Flea Market," Sanford's Flea World is a legend among flea enthusiasts. This market broke ground with services such as hair stylists, tax preparers, psychics and wedding reception rentals. At nearly 1,700 booths, vendors deal in that unusual region between flea market and bargain store with about eight "dollar stores," selling everyday wares like bungee cords, tools and cell phone covers. Flea World also has a pet store, plenty of electronics and a "Garage Sale Row." Want to bring the kids? Flea World's "Fun World" features go-karts, bumper cars, miniature golf and other kid-friendly activities.
Highway 17-92, Sanford
Daytona Flea & Farmers Market
Located at the junction of Highway 92 and Interstate 4, this Friday-Sunday market should be on the list of every sun worshipper and NASCAR fan. Not only will you find deals on sunglasses and beachwear, the market's "Speedway" area features souvenirs honoring the legends and heritage of nearby Daytona International Speedway. More than 800 vendors spread across the market's 30 acres pitching produce, pickles, antiques and collectibles, tires, spices and rubs, New Age gifts, custom jewelry, Avon products, darts, vacuums, knives, landscape plants and garden supplies. After getting a trim at the barber shop, dine in air-conditioned comfort – then get a tattoo (that's here, too).
2987 Bellevue Avenue, Daytona Beach
Opa-Locka Hialeah Flea Market
Busy on weekends? No matter. This multicultural market, located northwest of Miami, is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The highlight may be the 200,000-square-foot farmers market that features a cornucopia of freshly harvested items from fields and groves in nearby Homestead. To accommodate a steady stream of shoppers (about 100,000 each week), a 10,000-space parking lot gives customers easy access to eight restaurants and merchandise that includes appliances, pets, ceramics, shoes, handbags, luggage, sportswear, watches, auto accessories, toys, wigs, a barbershop and a dentist!
12705 NW 42nd Avenue, Opa-Locka
B&A Flea Market
Sure, you can find plenty of new flea market merchandise inside B&A, but as you stroll past the outdoor vendors you may detect a feeling similar to one you'd experience in a Middle East bazaar. Rugs and fortunetellers are among the standouts here. The market's 600 dealers are also keen to strike a bargain on golf equipment, produce, ladies' fashions, antiques, estate jewelry, furniture and tools. When in Stuart, you can also save some gas: Instead of combing the town in search of far-flung garage sales, "Garage Sale Alley" offers novice dealers a centralized place to clear out their clutter (and gives shoppers a shot at more bargains).
2885 SE US 1, Stuart
Fleamasters Flea Market
Among Fleamasters' 900 dealers, highlights include sunglasses, prescription eyewear, boots, motorcycle gear, flags, board games, sun dresses, locally-produced wines and children's apparel by Zutano, Girlfriends, I-Play and Melissa & Doug. You can even change your appearance by shopping for a wig at – dig this – the WigWam. So after you're decked out in your new glasses and bouffant hairpiece, head over to the 300-seat Music Hall to take in free live performances by local and touring bands.
4135 Dr. M.L. King Jr. Blvd., Fort Myers
Flamingo Island Flea Market
With a prime location the length of a football field off I-75, this Friday-Sunday market midway between Naples and Fort Myers in Bonita Springs has a soothing tropical veneer, which makes perusing the wares of its 220 dealers a treat. The merchandise is similar to that of other markets (beads, books, cell phones and accessories, hardware, jewelry, leather apparel, cleaning supplies, crafts, plants, watches and more), but each weekend the atmosphere gets a boost. Saturdays offer Karaoke at Bahama Momma's Tiki Bar, Sundays from October to May feature bluegrass jam sessions and open mic performances, and Dixieland bands play every Friday from December through March.
11902 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs
The Flea Shopper's Handbook
Once you've been bitten by the fleas, you may want to scratch malls off your shopping list. Accent pieces for your home and new additions for collections can be found at a fraction of the cost and with more fun than shopping a decorator's gallery. If you're a flea novice, keep these tips in mind for a successful shopping excursion.
- If you find an item which is too large for you to haul home (i.e., a dining room set), ask at the market office if they have a dealer who makes deliveries.
- Beware of "repros" – reproduction items copied so exactly sometimes experts can't even tell them apart from the real thing. When in doubt, doubt.
- If you arrive and see something you can't live without, ask the dealer to hold it for an hour. You may run across the same item elsewhere in the market for a lesser price. Recently, we were tempted by a $75 Art Deco clock – then found a dealer that had an identical clock for just $25.
- Feel free to haggle. It's expected. First, ask what the very best price is and then make your offer. The tone in a dealer's voice will tell you when they're firm on the price so don't push your luck. On the other hand, if you can bear to walk away from a bargain, you may find them calling you back to give you a better price.
- It's a good idea to carry a sturdy plastic bag for purchases and keep an umbrella handy in the event of rain.
- Two smaller items to bring along are a magnet to check if a brass item is authentic. If it really is brass, the magnet won't stick. Also, carry a magnifying glass to check for small trademarks and jewelry markings.
- Carry an assortment of bills and coins. Dealers can't always make change. Sometimes, you can even get a $5 item for less if you show you're only carrying four singles.
- If you arrive in town on a day when there's no flea market, buy a local paper and map out garage sales and auctions.