Flea market provides business opportunities for underrepresented communities
Tufted rugs in the shape of mushrooms and flowers. Crystals and sage smudge sticks. Jordan 1 Highs in gold, turquoise and orange. Free rainbow stickers and pins. A 12-second TikTok video flashing glimpses of these items racked up over 500,000 likes and 10,000 comments. It was one of the videos that helped a local flea market in Whittier blow up to become a style destination. This trend is here to stay.
Several small businesses at the 562 Flea market located in Whittier (@562flea on TikTok) use their artistic and entrepreneurial skills to connect with others and sell unique items you can’t find anywhere else. Andres Vega makes a point to prioritize POC, LGBTQ and other underrepresented vendors. He uses the 562 Flea market as a way to provide financial security and build a sense of community with the people of Whittier.
Originally, Vega was planning on organizing a flea market back in 2019. When COVID-19 hit, he had to put his plans on hold. However, he didn’t let the pandemic stop his desire to create a space for the community.
Vega has been involved in the clothing industry for a majority of his life, with his mother and grandmother having a business selling clothing for 30 years at a women’s boutique, Margarita’s Fashions, in Whittier.
“COVID decimated their business because schools were on leave and there weren’t any events happening,” he says. Seeing the lack of activity during those early months of the pandemic made him come back to the idea of a flea market as a community space. “I almost didn’t have any excuses anymore to not do it,” he says.
He started the flea market in his grandma’s lot with spaces for 35 vendors. Now, the market is located in a parking lot on Painter Avenue and Bailey Street in Uptown Whittier and can accommodate 60 vendors.
Vega has used Instagram and TikTok to advertise the market’s events. Since the opening of the 562 Flea market, it has gained over 50,000 followers on Instagram, as well as over 46,000 followers and 1.3 million likes on TikTok.
“One thing that’s always been the same is our variety of vendors, but one thing that has changed is the size,” he says, adding that they’ve also done events with 100 vendors, which is triple the number he originally started with. “From day one we have embraced our diversity and have been about supporting all businesses,” Vega adds.
Many small businesses have been able to thrive during these pop-up events by making an income and expanding their businesses.
Vivian Garcia (@viv.doodles on Instagram) is a Cal State Long Beach graduate that uses her artwork as a way to express herself. She began selling her work in 2020 which includes stationary items such as planners, cards, stickers and keychains.
“My shop is just a curation of everything that I’m obsessed with, [and] things that make me happy that I hope make other people happy,” she says.
Garcia has enjoyed drawing from a young age and started designing in a photoshop class in high school. She has continued this passion since and has turned it into a means of making an income.
“My friend was actually the one that introduced me to doing these pop-up events. Once I started doing them with her, it really showed me that it’s doable. I can do this,” she says.
While Garcia has been able to expand her business through her artwork, it hasn’t always been easy. She explains that her biggest challenge is competing with everyone else.
“People are not here to shop for you only. They’re here to shop everywhere and you need to find a way to make your shop unique,” says Garcia.
Vega, the market’s founder, tries to have a variety of vendors at each event by releasing market dates in advance and preventing vendors from booking more than two events at a time.
Garcia supplements her earnings by also selling her work on Etsy. While her experiences as a pop-up vendor have been difficult, she’s found joy while selling at the 562 Flea market. “It’s really nice to actually interact with people in real life and see them light up when they see a piece of artwork that I created myself,” she says. “I feel like the owner is heavily influenced by Black and brown culture in Los Angeles.”
Logan Shust (@lostandfoundvintageoc on Instagram) is a fashion major at Fullerton College that began selling vintage items with his friend Marlon Hanes in January 2022.
Shust and Hanes began going to larger flea markets and finding items to curate for their brand, Lost and Found Vintage. They started building up their inventory of ‘90s vintage shirts, hats, posters and artwork in Fall 2021 several months before they were ready to set up shop.
“We went to the Rose Bowl and other flea markets too,” Shust says. “So we went through a $5 pile here, a $10 pile there and we were making deals, learning how to resell clothes from other vendors and even looking at online shops to create a cohesive look for our brand.” While Shust and Hanes curate their items, so do many vendors at the 562 Flea market.
Through this curation process, Shust and Hanes have been able to have items that are always popular while they’re selling at the 562 Flea market.
“We’ve sold out of a lot of products the last few times we were here. We sold out of all our artwork and posters, and we sell out of most of our sneakers too,” Shust says.
But that’s not easy to do. Even when they’re not selling items, they’re always working.
“We realized that if you’re not at every flea market, you’re not always going to make a lot on the job. There’s also a ton of work that goes into our brand,” Shust says, explaining that they’re building visibility by booking a spot at the 562 Flea market. “We’re promoting our items on Instagram and going out to other vendors to curate our brand even more.”
For Shust and Hanes, they’re not just there to build their business, but also to make personal connections.
“It’s not all about the money. This is a lifestyle for the two of us. There’s a lot of cool people here,” Shust says. “We really like connecting with people and having the opportunity to talk to others after being in isolation for so long.”
Vega, the market’s founder, wants to bring that sense of connection to even more people.
He grew up in Whittier but spent much of his youth hanging out at the Brea Mall and in Downtown Fullerton. Now, he hopes to expand the flea market to some of these communities in Orange County.
“I would love to bring the market in places that I loved when I was a child,” Vega says. “Because we had such a strong first year, I’ve always been trying to keep up with the momentum. I can’t stop and let it die.”