A market where you can buy or barter for secondhand goods is called a swap meet in some places, trash and treasure market in others, and flea market on Martha’s Vineyard. The Chilmark Flea Market holds unlimited potential; anyone can rent a stall to set out anything — well, nearly anything — they want to sell.

“When we started it, most of it was people cleaning out attics and basements and stuff like that, so there was a wider variety of old stuff,” said Joe Negyesi, a jeweler who has been selling at the flea market for close to two decades. “Now it has become more of like an artisans thing or an imports thing or people buy inexpensive things and try and resell them or make their own stuff.

“The nature of the market has changed,” he noted.

While Mr. Negyesi talked, his partner, Helene Rich, helped a woman who was asking for their “best price” on a necklace she was trying on. Bartering is acceptable at the flea market but there is an etiquette to it.

“Sometimes people come up and say, you know you ask them for 20 dollars and they say ‘I’ll give you 10’ — instead of ‘What would be your best price?’ or ‘What could you do?’ So it’s like they’re giving their largess to tell you what you will take,” said Mr. Negyesi.

Still, at this flea market, also known as The Flea in the Meadow, there’s a mostly easy rapport.

In the stall next to Mr. Negyesi, Brenda Evans sat in the shade of her tent with her knitted handbags hanging all around her. It’s her third consecutive year here as one of the 60 or so vendors of crafts, artwork, antiques, old things and other things. The camaraderie is what she likes best about it. “The social part of it — a lot of people come back year after year and so you see them again and again, and hopefully they liked your product the first time and they come back and talk to you again,” Ms. Evans said.

Christine Mayhew, the vendor manager, has been selling antiques at the Flea Market for around 10 years. She understands the stresses and joys of working the flea, which she says is “almost like a carnie way of life.”

“[The vendors will] call in the winter asking for their spaces and they’ll call asking for the same neighbors,” Ms. Mayhew said. “Because it can get to be a long day, and if you really get along with your neighbors, who you had a great time with last year, it makes it fun instead of a horrible job.

“It’s interesting,” she continued, “There’s a lot of kind of obscure etiquette and protocol like if there’s a disagreement between two vendors I’ve seen it all,” she said, demurring on the details. “But for the most part, once things settle in people really come into their space. They set up and it’s actually pretty much a good community.”

The booths line a field at 142 North Road, between Tabor House Road and Tea Lane. Tents extended across about an acre, and cars are parked to the side of the market on the grass.

The Chilmark Flea Market is a fund-raising function for the Chilmark Community Church. The flea began in the churchyard on the Menemsha Crossroad but has moved to several different locations over its 44 years in operation.

Gail Becker sat in a chair under her tent, selling handmade linen and lace garments and sheets as she has every summer for the past 18 years. A regular for so long, she knows the history of the flea market. Ms. Becker tells how the flea overgrew its first location:

“People loved the church because it was a small place and each [stall] was greatly valued, and we were judged. You had to pass Phyllis Conway’s judgment of your work. She didn’t just allow anybody in. People loved it.

“However, two things happened. It got so big and so popular that the neighbors complained. In some cases they were right. Some shoppers had the audacity to park in private driveways. Police and fire departments began to fear that if there were an emergency they wouldn’t be able to get through because of all the cars.

“The church then built an all-purpose room in the back of the church which took away a number of vendor spots. Then the police department said, ‘You cannot park with your tires on the street. You have to put the whole car on the [grass], and if any part of the tires are on the street you will be fined.’ So they were handing out I think it was $25 fines to the shoppers at the flea market. Well, if you get a $25 ticket you are not coming back to the flea market. And finally the powers that be in Chilmark said, ‘You can’t do this anymore, it’s just inappropriate, you’ve outgrown the space.’ From there, we went to Middle Road.”

After a few years on Middle Road, and a detour across town lines to the West Tisbury School, the flea market moved to its current location on North Road. Renting a field presented new challenges to the organizers. They currently pay $8,000 a summer for using the field twice per week. They also rent a porta-potty and hire a traffic cop, which adds to the costs. The only income the organizers generate is from the $45 fee that the vendors are charged per day.

Pam Goff, a Chilmark resident, devoted member of the church and one of the flea market organizers said: “It’s been one of the main supports of the church. It is a very small church and it’s been the sort of mainstay for years. In the lean times it has kept it going.”


The Chilmark Flea Market is held every Wednesday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon at 142 North Road, across from the old schoolhouse in a big open field.