The Old Bait and Switcheroo
Sometime during the morning of August 22, 2009, Pennsy’s manager stopped by my space, looked me in the eye, and asked how I had been doing “here [at Pennsy].” I thought he was just being friendly, or even manager-ly—or in his own, socially inept way might have been apologizing for what happened a few weeks before. I was still setting up at the time so I answered his seemingly rhetorical question with something like “pretty good” or “alright” or maybe even “not bad.” He smiled, nodded, and then left. Not thinking much of it, I continued setting up my space. A few hours later, I would find that I could not have misread his intentions more.
Sometime that afternoon, the manager visited my space once again. This time he said he needed to speak with me. Once he had my attention, he informed me that from now on $15.00 spaces can only have two tables and all the merchandise had to be on the tables. Nothing could be on the floor. (I normally had five tables filled with merchandise and a dozen or so boxes of books on the floor.) Then, not unlike a used-car salesman, he said, “But the good news is that regular spaces are only ten dollars more than you’re paying now.” Business was getting so bad that Pennsy had been lowering space prices until, by then, they were down to $25.00 each.
My first reaction was to laugh to myself for two reasons: 1) I then realized that his question to me earlier was not rhetorical at all but a serious, though seriously flawed, effort to gather information. And, 2) since I started selling there, Pennsy had been losing vendors at an alarming rate and this guy decides that that is the best time to try and get more money out of one of the vendors who are still there.
What he did not know, however, is that I could not have cared less. As I explained earlier, business at Pennsy was getting worse each week, plus it was the end of August. September and October would bring in part B of the special-event flea market season and I was already booked at several of them. In other words, my days at Pennsy were numbered whether they forced me to pay more or not
A Day in November I’d Like to Forget
Due to weather and daylight changes in the Philadelphia area, the outdoor, special-event flea market season abruptly shuts down at the end of October. Knowing this, it is not so difficult to see why the sheltered Pennsy Flea Market might be on some Philadelphia vendors’ minds come late fall. (Even the minds of those who write very long reviews for the most part complaining about Pennsy’s shortcomings.)
On November 21st, 2009, I decided to head over to Pennsy once again in an attempt to make some money in an otherwise slow flea market month. I didn’t expect much having already become disillusioned with the place; however, I was fairly confident I could at the very least turn a small profit and, at best, make a hundred above my expenses. Basically, my thinking was, what could I lose by giving Pennsy another try?
Sixteen dollars to be exact!
That day marked only the second time in almost ten years that I had ever lost money selling at a flea market. I have had a lot of poor days but almost always managed to eke out a profit, sometimes by the slimmest of margins. But losing money was so anomalous that it was the furthest thing from my mind on that day.
My gross sales amounted to a paltry $59.00 and with space rental, transportation fees, and paying my nephew to help load and unload, my expenses were $75.00. The ton of bricks had fallen. I never, ever sold at Pennsy Flea Market again.
That Was Then . . .
Okay, so I’ve taken quite a bit of cyber space telling of/complaining about my experiences at Pennsy Flea Market; however, all this happened several years ago. So, have things changed since then?
Pennsy is still around so surely they must be doing something right. To their credit, the owners have made many changes over the years and seem doggedly determined to find a formula that works. The changes are too numerous to mention here—I most likely don’t even know all of them—but there are three that I know of that are worth talking about.
The first change is managerial. The two gentlemen running the show when I was selling at Pennsy are no longer there and I can only say, “good riddance!” Apparently, the flea market has changed managers a few times since then and from what I’ve heard there is one gentleman who was especially well-liked by the vendors. Unfortunately, he also left and I’m not sure how the vendors feel about his replacement.
Another big change at Pennsy is that they added a live auction a few years ago. I honestly don’t know what impact it has had on the vendors but anything that brings people in the door might help. The only comment I can make on it is that I’ve observed the auction a few times and although there was a lot of merchandise up for sale, the auction crowds have always been sparse and bids were few and far between.
Finally, what I find to be the most interesting and exciting change at Pennsy is that vendors can now rent spaces by the month and leave their merchandise there permanently. In the parlance of the neighborhood I grew up in, that’s strong. Especially for aging vendors whose backs are not quite what they used to be, or for vendors who don’t own large trucks. I’m not sure of all the details but you can check their website or give them a call to find out more.
A Brief Encounter with a Pennsy Vendor
On my last visit to Pennsy, I struck up a brief conversation with a friendly, well-dressed young woman who was selling jewelry that she makes herself. The jewelry was very nice and not expensive but certainly not cheap (as in quality and price). I asked if she regularly sells at Pennsy and, of course, how she was doing business-wise. She told me she had been there a few times and described her business as normally a “handful of sales” each day, which she said, she was happy with.
Since last selling at Pennsy Flea Market, I’ve only visited the place a dozen or so times but I have talked to several vendors who either still sell there or have sold there recently. There has also been a fair amount of commentary about Pennsy on this blog. Based on what I’ve heard and seen, Pennsy has improved over the years but not enough to make me want to sell there anytime soon. The truth is, for all the money spent on advertising, and for all the changes made over the years, the place still doesn’t seem to attract enough shoppers.
As for the woman selling the handmade jewelry, she has a website and is apparently using the flea market to promote her business. Any exposure she gets is well worth her time and investment. If she makes enough money to cover her expenses and earns a few dollars profit then she is happy. If you are a vendor in her shoes, Pennsy might be the place for you. But for serious, professional and semi-professional vendors, a handful of sales just wouldn’t cut it.
There are also the vendors selling inexpensive general merchandise. Two vendors I have in mind—one I mentioned earlier—seem to do very well at Pennsy Flea Market. Both these vendors have been there since the flea market first opened and one of them rents six spaces at a time. If you sell inexpensive general merchandise like toys, tape, batteries, etc., then again, Pennsy might be a place for you. That type of merchandise is not my cup-of-tea but it does sell well at most flea markets.
Therefore my final verdict on Pennsy for vendors who specialize in used, quality, or vintage merchandise is that it is a better place for shopping than for selling. (I usually stop there on my way from Jerry’s Corner which is close by.) Pennsy is not a great seller’s market by any means, but on recent trips, I’ve noticed more used vendors and there is also the plethora of used and vintage merchandise at the auction that should never be ignored.
About a year ago, I was at Pennsy with a friend when a small cardboard box under one of the auction tables caught her eye. The box contained several plates that she recognized as being old and very collectible. She asked about the box and the auctioneer told her it had already been put up and did not sell. He then told her she could purchase the box for just three dollars. She bought it without hesitation and flipped the plates online for $450.00.
Okay, so I’ve done quite a bit of writing on the subject of Pennsy Flea Market in the last month and it’s all been my opinions based on my experiences. I would love to hear from others who can add more insight. The burning question that needs to be answered is: “Is Pennsy Flea Market, at this time, a place for sellers to make substantial profits?” I say, only for a few types of vendors; however, I could be wrong. Therefore, as always, anyone is welcome to comment, agree, disagree, question, opine, criticize, or guest post. Also, don’t forget to subscribe and imbibe.
Administrator’s note: Flea market reviews are the opinions of those who write them based on their personal experiences either selling or shopping at a particular flea market. In my case, I also consider information gathered from other vendors and shoppers I know and trust. Philadelphia Flea Market News does not guarantee that any flea market is exactly the way it is described by any reviewer. Your experiences and perceptions might be much different. Therefore, anyone is welcome, and even encouraged, to share their own flea market opinions and experiences, or write their own reviews. As long as they are relevant and informative, they will be published.