A Flea Market Documentary is a new PBS special and an all-American celebration of open-air shopping across the country.
On any weekend, there may be no better place to find out what makes America great than at a flea market. A Flea Market Documentary is an unabashed celebration of the unusual people and the enticing things that can be found in parking lots, fairgrounds, drive-ins, sidewalks, and wherever else someone has posted a sign saying “Flea Market.”
It’s capitalism mixed with craziness. It’s amazing old stuff, great salespeople, the ancient tradition of the open-air market, and the possibility of finding a bargain, all uniting shoppers across the nation.
Produced by WQED Pittsburgh, A Flea Market Documentary travels from the gigantic Rose Bowl Market in Pasadena, California, to the busy but modest- sized Eastern Market in Washington, DC, talking with organizers, vendors, food merchants and shoppers.
We drive down Highway 127 through Kentucky and Tennessee on the long August weekend when it becomes a 450-mile long collective yard sale that attracts people from near and far.
We find out what goes on in Canton, Texas, at the country’s oldest flea market, still known as “First Monday” even though it’s now held on the weekend before the first Monday. We travel just south of Pittsburgh, PA, and arrive at the local racetrack before dawn as vendors set up and eager shoppers line up for first dibs on the amazing merchandise sold at the Antiques Fair at the Meadows.
Although we learn about antique toys, rugs from Afghanistan, Breyer model horses and the lure of old glass insulators, this program doesn’t focus on items or their estimated values as much as it illustrates the unpredictable mix of personalities and merchandise that make up an interesting market. And it’s not just old things. Amidst the antique merchants at the Fremont Market in Seattle, WA, a young man named Steven Villegas enthusiastically sells brand new heavy-duty cotton kilts that he designs and markets as “Utilikilts” for bold working men.
“I was flattered the first day I came to the Market,” said Villegas, inventor and founder of UtiliKilts. “I sold one. I sold my first UtiliKilt right here, and ever since that I’ve been coming back. But I couldn’t have done it without this place.”
In A Flea Market Documentary, as in many of his other productions, Rick Sebak invites viewers to take a closer, fresher look at a part of American culture that may be passed by or often taken for granted.
“We wanted to celebrate the people and the places and show how all of us can appreciate the desire to find a bargain, to make a buck, or simply to walk and talk among old lunch boxes, spinning wheels and outrageously expensive cookie jars,” said producer Rick Sebak, whose other work for PBS includes A Hot Dog Program, Great Old Amusement Parks, Shore Things and An Ice Cream Show.
“At a time when shopping has become standardized and predictable at franchised stores across the country, the local flea market has taken on new importance. It’s a temporary shopping center, an opportunity to find a one-of-a-kind item, to haggle with vendors who often know something about their wares, and to participate in a social gathering, all at the same time.”
In an increasingly diverse America, visiting our local flea market may be one of the best ways to find out what’s happening and what’s important, as well as what’s for sale. Brian Bumb, president of the San Jose Flea Market, said, “When you talk about immigrants that come here, the Asians or the Mexicans, the flea market stays within their ‘comfort zone’ because it’s very similar to the markets that they have in their countries. It’s open-air and it gives them a feeling of home.”
A Flea Market Documentary is a production of WQED Pittsburgh. Funding for this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting Service and public television viewers. Producer/Writer/Narrator is Rick Sebak; Associate Producer is Minette Seate; Editor is Kevin Conrad; Executive Producer is Jocelyn Hough.