It’s been a fun-filled three weeks in central Florida but, unfortunately, it will be time to return home in just a couple of days. Of all the things I’m going to miss about this place shopping at flea markets is not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, it was an enjoyable way to pass some time and gas, but some of the vendors offering their wares seemed to be a bit questionable in terms of both business ethics and some of the products they were selling.
Before I get to those products let me say this to my northern friends: you haven’t seen a flea market until you’ve shopped at one of the roadside tourist traps in Florida advertising hundreds of booths and, I quote, “millions of items for you to choose from under one roof.”
One wonders if those millions of items are capable of reproducing as fast as the insects for which these markets are so aptly named. And by the way, if you think New York flea markets pose a challenge to your sensibilities, try a central Florida flea market where the word “flea” is both a compliment and one of the most attractive products you’ll find on the shelves.
On that happy note here are the 10 most exciting items, listed in descending order, that I found for sale throughout the half-dozen flea markets we visited. By the way, I swear I’m not making any of this up.
10. The Electric Nose Hair Remover – Are you tired of unsightly nose hair protruding from your nasal cavity at all hours of the night or day? If so, there’s no need to live with it any longer thanks to the cheap electric nose hair remover straight from some sweat shop located somewhere in the remote badlands of China. This product was especially intriguing to me given the fact that most Chinese don’t suffer from issues of excess bodily hair. Or maybe they do and they’re just very well groomed. I guess I don’t really know.
9. Assorted Wigs – I kid you not, if you’re a central Florida resident and one who is hair challenged you can buy the wig of your choice at no fewer than three of the flea markets we visited. Oh yeah baby, they sell wigs of all shapes, sizes, and colors to match any taste or lifestyle. Just step right up, slap one on your head, and take a look in the mirror. In an instant you can go from being a boring American housewife to looking like Jen Aniston or Ziggy Stardust — it’s your choice.
8. Brassiere Enhancers – Given that I’m trying to maintain a family-friendly column I don’t want to get into much detail here. Feel free to use your imagination as needed. I only have one question: do these things really need to be sold at a flea market? Apparently they do if the flea market in question is located in the greater Orlando area. Perhaps it’s because this is a magical place where “dreams really do come true.”
7. Cheap Jewelry – At the end of our flea market adventure I came to the conclusion that central Florida is the capital of cheap jewelry. If it’s not the capital I’m sure it gives New York City, Milan, and Havana a serious run for the title. Here you can buy “genuine” gold rings at the amazing price of “three for just $10.” If you’re fond of jewelry made from shells, shark’s teeth, or recycled waste paper (I swear this was a big item for a lot of vendors) flea market jewelers have just what you’re looking for. One thing I was surprised I didn’t see was the reindeer pooh jewelry I wrote about a few years ago.
6. Luggage – If nothing else the flea market vendors in this part of the world are resourceful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more luggage in one place. But they’re smart enough to know dumb tourists like me will buy flea market tote bags, suitcases, and shoulder bags after airport luggage [man]handlers treat our current baggage like a dog’s chew toy. I confess I purchased a carry-on bag for five dollars here back in 2009.
5. Tattoos – What is it with Floridians and ink-based body art? If I had to take a guess I would say there’s one tattoo artist for every piece of luggage in central Florida. My only concern is trusting a tattoo artist who sets up shop in a market named after an annoying bug whose sole mission in life is to torture cats and dogs and/or cause the potential sale price of your home to plummet once visitors to the open house start complaining about scratching themselves silly. Seriously? Maybe that thing around the tattoo artist’s neck is really a flea collar.
4. Psychic Readings – If brassiere enhancers and tattoos don’t provide enough entertainment you can always go to the next booth over, staffed by the local psychic who stands ready to tell you everything about your future you don’t really want to know. I kid you not, psychic readings are big business in Orlando-area flea markets. At least they’re big enough to cause the practitioners of such practices to set up booths (I never actually witnessed someone getting a reading). Whether or not they make any money is a matter debate. However, you’d expect a psychic to know ahead of time whether or not a flea market was a good place for business.
3. Middle Eastern Female Garb – If I didn’t know any better I would swear central Florida has an overabundance of Middle Eastern women specializing in belly dancing and other assorted activities. Never in my life have I seen so many jewel encrusted skull caps or brightly colored silk garments with functions I couldn’t even begin to address without professional training. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Middle Eastern women who belly dance, I just never knew there were so many of them in this part of the world.
2. Sunglasses – If sunglasses were currency there would be a lot of very rich flea market vendors. I bought sunglasses here on two separate occasions only because I couldn’t find specimens up north that were the right size to clip to my eyeglasses. But come to think of it, the unnatural shortage of sunglasses in New York is probably being caused by the tremendous amount of hoarding going on in Florida. It’s time for those sunglass-rich Floridians to spread the wealth. Power to the people!
1. Really Gnarly Shirts – The most exciting product by far were the really gnarly shirts I found at the last flea market we visited. They are brightly colored Hawaiian shirts typical of what would be worn by just about any Calvary Chapel pastor in the country. Just for the record, the hunt for these shirts is exactly why we started visiting flea markets in the first place. Much to my surprise I only found them in this one place and, for some unknown reason, there were only about a dozen or so to choose from. That got me wondering, why don’t Florida residents wear Hawaiian shirts more often? Perhaps there are fewer Calvary Chapels here than in California and New York.
So there you have it. Your complete guide to shopping at a central Florida flea market when you’re here on vacation and have both time and money to spend. Just be careful that you know what you’re looking for before you go shopping. Otherwise you may find yourself falling prey to a very convincing salesman who’s not afraid to load you up with tons of cheap jewelry and your very own electric nose hair remover.