Flea markets offer a unique work environment. Whether you are management, staff, seller or shopper, the atmosphere is like no other. The eclectic energy of small businesses, mind-bending hours, boggling bargains, and people of all ages, languages, and cultures lend to the flavor of your local flea market.
The diversity of working in a flea market is especially valuable to children who work side by side with their families. Whether it is caring for a younger sibling, translating for a customer, or learning to make change, families spend quality time together while children learn and model their parent’s work ethic. Children growing up in a supervised micro work environment are exposed to a variety of functional tasks that Saturday morning sleepyheads may not experience until their first high school job at 16 or even post-college. These tasks translate into important social and work skills for their adult lives and future careers.
Lots of talking, negotiating, listening and helping occur at flea markets. In life, you need to be able to communicate effectively and politely with everyone you meet. Steve, now 30, who started selling at Wolff’s Flea Market with his dad as a teenager, says, “I learned how to communicate with people and I learned about the value of things.” Teen friends Haley and Margarita met at Wolff’s Flea Market Palatine. Margarita says she learned to become more comfortable around larger groups of people by working at the flea. Her dad, Jose, agrees that she has grown very responsible and self-confident since she started coming with him to the flea market. Haley says she feels like she can talk to anyone now.
Teamwork and Trust
Team players in the workforce are successful and sought after. On busy days, a family booth involves working towards the same goal of sales and customer service. For example, at the Fruteria Meyita booth at Wolff’s Flea Market, it takes a team of several family members, young and old, to efficiently prepare the fresh components for their long line of fruit cocktail and mangonada fans.
Haley and Margarita sometimes watch each other’s booths and feel like they have developed a trusting working relationship. They compliment and support each other in business transactions. Of course, as the girls are still teenagers, an adult is always nearby to supervise.
Children working with their parents naturally learn to take initiative when there is a line of customers and someone must step in. They become aware and attentive to the needs of their business and shoppers. These kids focus on the task at hand and get the job done. Developing this valuable work skill at such early age will take them through school and beyond.
Julio started working at the flea market when he was 12. He says his experience helps him be more responsible. “I knew I had to come to the flea market, no matter what. I think it kept me out of trouble. I knew I had to be home early to sleep good and be ready to sell early in the morning.” Now an adult, he operates his own successful booth selling dried fruits and nuts. His children have been coming since they were born and join the sweet group of flea market kids and helpers.
Children learn how small businesses develop and operate in an informal, public, and supervised setting. They learn what it takes to buy low and sell high. They learn math and accounting skills. If they want something, they quickly see the relationship between making money, saving and deciding how to spend it. We commonly see a couple of friends pooling their belongings and selling at their own table in a parent’s spot. Examples of businesses that children have started at the flea market include selling handmade jewelry, greeting cards, collectible cards and toys.
The gang of multi-age and multi-cultural kids at Wolff’s Flea Market goes by a few nicknames. At first, we called them Wolff’s Crafty Kids because they seemed to always be busy making something – jewelry, posters, artwork and extending our holiday craft projects into elaborate creations. Now, they like to go by their own name, Teen Kid Squad. When not working at their parents’ booths, the Squad is shopping, offering to help other vendors, making up games and enjoying the market. Spending their weekends at the flea means close friendships have formed between the Squad members. Says Lesly, “I like coming here because my friends are here.” Like all members of the Teen Kid Squad, Lesly has developed a strong work ethic but still has time to meet new people, socialize and have fun.