This is another in a series of posts about local businesses and their owners. Check out the earlier posts on Uncle Chips, Studio 85 and Revive.
Today we’re venturing across North Capitol Street to a store that caught my eye almost as soon as I moved in – The Flea Market Store at 1626 Lincoln Road NE. While the other retail spaces I’ve checked out so far have all been new, what drew me to the Flea Market Store wasn’t newness, but pure, unfiltered curiosity – just how the heck does one wind up running a “flea market store?”
In the eight years that Willie Barnes has owned The Flea Market Store, he’s seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood. His clientele has changed “a bit,” he explains, becoming more white and more affluent, and street crime and vagrancy are both down. Where it matters most, though, he says the changes haven’t all been for the best. He smiles and shakes his head, “I get less for my products now than I did in the early 1990’s!”
Willie’s been in the flea market business for almost 30 years, operating a store in Clarendon before moving to Eckington in 2004. Business is hanging in there, he says, but the down economy has affected his sales. “Since I opened here, the economy’s been up-and-down, up-and-down,” he explains, “and even when it’s been up recently, it’s also psychological. People just don’t spend money as freely as they used to.”
The Flea Market store specializes in exercise equipment, furniture and appliances, which Willie picks up in auctions and resells from his store for cheap. Browsers will find all of those, plus a grab bag of houseware, old DVDs and CDs, knick-knacks and art. When I visited, I picked up a golf-bag thermos that is now a mainstay in my house’s collection.
It was a holiday weekend, and, Willie’s son, Josh, was helping with the store, as customers dropped in to ask about the appliances outside, and Willie called others to let them know that the store had found specific items – refrigerators, exercise bikes, etc. –that they were looking for.
Buying the lots is easy, Willie says, it’s getting the customers in the door that’s the hard part – that and bringing the pieces outside to the sidewalk every day. I ask Willie if he’s ever found anything unexpected in an auction lot, and he just laughs. “I’ve heard rumors about that,” he says, “but if there are any ‘treasures’ out there, they haven’t come my way!”
You can definitely do worse for your own treasure hunting on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, though, than The Flea Market Store, and it should be your first stop in the neighborhood if you’re looking to add some new appliances or houseware without putting too much of a dent in your budget.