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Shop 'Til You Drop - Flea Markets

The flea market is an Old World concept. Originally the term was applied to impromptu markets, the yard sales of their day, where enterprising individuals at the frayed edge of the merchant class displayed a grab bag of merchandise, some of dubious provenance — hence the alternate term: “thieves’ market.” Like the term “factory outlet,” the term “flea market” has evolved over the years. Today, as practiced in Central Florida, a flea market is a sort of alternate shopping mall. The market owner provides, at a modest rental, simple booths in covered arcades. The merchants are, for the most part, full-time professionals with long-term leases on their booths who differ from their counterparts in the glitzy malls only in the matter of scale.

Whereas the old flea markets of Europe held out the lure of uncovering some priceless antique at an unbelievably low price, the modern Florida flea market more often offers inexpensive merchandise, purchased from a wholesaler and offered at a price that might not be any better than you could get at Kmart. Still, savvy shoppers can find bargains here if they know what they’re looking for (and at). The best bets, in my opinion, are the secondhand dealers, the craftspeople, the fresh produce vendors, and the purveyors of the sort of wacky and offbeat stuff you don’t usually see elsewhere.

Whatever the drawbacks of flea market shopping, there’s no denying that the atmosphere of these bazaars is a lot of fun. There’s plenty of greasy and fattening food to keep your energy up and the very challenge of navigating the seemingly endless rows of wares tends to keep you going. For those who have never experienced this particular slice of Americana, I recommend it highly. For those of you who simply love the flea market experience (and you know who you are), the following flea markets should keep you busy. If you must have more, just look in the Yellow Pages in your hotel room under “Flea Markets.”

Flea World
Location: Highway 17-92 in Sanford; I-4 Exit 98
Information: (407) 330-1792
Hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Flea World bills itself as “America’s largest flea market” with 1,700 dealer booths, most of which are occupied on any given weekend. There’s bingo here and an amusement park next door to keep the kids occupied.

Main Gate Flea Market
Location: 5407 Irlo Bronson Highway (Highway 192) in Kissimmee
Information: (407) 390-1015
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

This market is housed in a series of long metal buildings set well back from the heavily traveled tourist strip of route 192, just east of I-4. There are over 400 booths here and a smattering of food stands, some of which offer some intriguing ethnic specialties.

OBT Flea Market
Location: 5545 International Drive in Orlando, just east of Kirkman Road
Information: (407) 460-8375
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

This bare-bones operation has space for 350 booths, but they are far from full. Look for a mix of costume jewelry, inexpensive clothing, and toys. Just across the street is the excellent Passage To India restaurant.

192 Flea Market
Location: 4301 West Vine Street (Highway 192) in Kissimmee
Information: (407) 396-4555
Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

This is Kissimmee’s original flea market. Over 400 booths offer a variety of wares, including plenty of Disney souvenirs and Florida t-shirts for the budget souvenir hound. I especially like the fact that this market seems to attract the casual vendor who uses it as a sort of substitute yard sale.

Osceola Flea & Farmers Market
Location: 2801 East Irlo Bronson Highway (Highway 192) between Kissimmee and St. Cloud
Information: (407) 846-2811
Hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

A little farther off the tourist track, this flea market offers more fresh produce than the others. It also has a “garage sale” section that draws folks with some junk to unload (as opposed to regular merchants). There are about 900 booths selling everything from Disney souvenirs to home improvement items to car stereos.

Visitors Market
Location: 5811 Irlo Bronson Highway (Highway 192) in Kissimmee
Information: (407) 390-9910
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (to 6:00 p.m. in slower periods)

A modest market housed in a former retail location on Kissimmee’s gaudy tourist strip, this one has space for 250 booths, most of which are open for business selling a wide variety of cut-rate merchandise.

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