This article appeared on July 27, 2015 in the Gardner News.
At 5 a.m. every Sunday morning, vendors line up in the parking lot of Rietta Flea Market, vehicles packed with anything and everything — stones, fresh produce, antiques, baby toys, junk and treasure.
Marketing itself as “one of the largest and most popular flea markets in Northeastern U.S.,” the Hubbardston staple has room for as many as 550 vendors. At $30 a table, some are looking to clean out their basements, others are hobbyists and then there are the established dealers who show up every week.
All of them want to make some money. The thousands of customers who show up every week, however, are all looking for a steal.
“The poorer the economy, the better our market,” said co-owner Ralene Williams. “The shoppers are coming to save some money, and the dealers are working to make some money by selling.”
Forty one years ago when it first began, Rietta Ranch was a small country-themed market. As it grew in popularity, the theme was forgotten. Today, shoppers tote out everything from toilets to antique harpoons, often in little red wagons.
“It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” said April Clow, who was selling this Sunday but often comes to shop.
Like pirates, shoppers scour the tables looking for gems at the lowest price possible, haggling with vendors in the name of a good price.
“Everyone wants everything for like free,” said seller Casey Roseberry, who stood behind a table with rare coins, old shutters and bottles of French’s mustard. “You have to have what they are looking for that day. The market has its ups and its downs.”
While vendors at tables with an odd assortment spend most of their day haggling with customers, tables that specialize in one thing, such as cacti, often don’t have to bargain as much with shoppers.
“Occasionally, people will try to haggle with me but the prices are so low they usually don’t,” said Cliff Livernois, a botanical hobbyist selling cacti and succulents for $2 to $3.50. “A small percentage will walk away.”
Mr. Livernois, who sells at several markets, said Rietta tends to have the lowest prices.
“There’s all kind of stuff here,” he said. “The prices are usually very inexpensive.” In part because the high-priced stuff is hard to sell.
“The more-expensive items move slowly,” said Ms. Clow, who was selling on behalf of the Ashima Animal Rescue in Templeton. “People want to feel like they got a deal.”
So toys sell for as little as three for $1, DVDs can cost as little as $1, amethyst goes for $10 a pound, clothes for $2 a garment.
Only one factor controls the market, the weather. “Mother nature is ultimately in charge,” said Ms. Williams. “It all hinges on the weather. Holidays don’t affect the market. Seasons don’t affect it, but the weather does.”
Gloomy days attract smaller crowds and fewer vendors, whereas the market booms on sunny days.
Rietta Flea Market is open for business April through October starting at 6 a.m. and lasting till about 3 p.m. when vendors pack up. Parking and admission is free, and there is a concessions stand as well as a bar.
No pets are allowed.