Growing up, Sundays were little Nancy Santos’ favorite day of the week. Her parents had a day off, she didn’t have any homework due and she always got five dollars to spend at the endless rows of low price goods at “el Swami.” Sundays felt like a treasure hunt. Though the Santos faced many challenges in the money department, “I knew I would find a lot more things for a lot less than at a normal store,” she said while gesturing to families sitting on a field of grass next to a bustling parking lot at Cypress College.
With consumer prices at the highest in 40 years, swap meets continue to be a staple in saving money and keeping it in the community. Also known as flea markets, the term stems from the original purpose of these uncommon sales where people would meet to trade second-hand objects. In So-Cal, swap meets are more than a pop-up. They are a form of life.
There are permanent indoor and outdoor sales hosted everywhere from community college parking lots, an old drive-in theater to the O.C. Fairgrounds. Drawing thousands of people looking to save big. Some of them are free admission and parking, while others charge a fee to get in or to park. Find everything from cleaning supplies, new and used clothes, furniture to a place to take a nice walk with family, eat or drink a cold one while you dance to live music.
Finding affordable goods at retail stores is only getting harder. Many people resort to ordering online from billionaire-owned companies as a means to get their everyday needs met at reasonable prices, often at the cost of their moral compass.
“I hate to give my money to Bezos,” said May Jimenez, a senior business major at Cal State Fullerton. At swap meets, everyday clothing items, cleaning supplies, socks and shoes can be half the price of big department stores and websites.
When you shop swap meets, the vendors are not disconnected billionaires but working class people that customers feel they can relate to and connect with. “It’s important to support people making their way for themselves,” said Maria Ruiz, freshman psychology major at SAC and Anaheim native.
Many vendors saw a huge decline or completely lost work during the pandemic. Like their customers, many did not have a safety net to fall back on when the pandemic hit. But when state’s regulations for outdoor areas grew more tolerant in late 2020, the size of crowds did too.
As did opportunities, like for artisan Jose Chavez, a businessman from Guerrero selling hand painted clay pots with his cousin. “Cuando bajo la economía [por la pandemia] todos votaron por hacerlas [los barros] de colores. Y así es como se empecieron a vender.” When the economy was bad [because of the pandemic], everyone voted to paint them [the clay pots]. That’s how they started selling, said Chavez about how their company thrived and made it out of the very doomful fate of the early Covid-19 stage.
Shopping at your local swap meet is a small step to save money and help out small businesses. They can create economic opportunities for both buyers and sellers to earn money and spend at a lower cost than they would at retail stores. Like 30-year-long swap meet vendor Cecilia Velasquez said, “Para que se ayuden ustedes y nosotros también.” So you can help yourself and we can too.