Things to Do at Flea Markets in Boston

By
Judith K. Tingley
- August 24, 2017

Fleas in the Country, Fleas in the City

Things to Do at Flea Markets in Boston

Most people know about the huge flea markets in the fields of Brimfield, MA, 70 miles west of the city, but you can find some fine markets in the Boston metro area too.

Going Beyond Brimfield

Brimfield must at least be mentioned in passing. It is, after all, one of the oldest, largest and most beloved flea markets in the U.S., and it's in Massachusetts, not that far from Boston. Everyone who loves antiques, bargains, the odd and the unique should take a trip to Brimfield at least once in her lifetime.

However, Brimfield holds its multiple-field markets just three times a year, and flea market addicts know there can never be enough markets to explore, nor can they come often enough.

Here are a few suggestions for Boston markets of note. Each of them has its own special charm, its own vibe, its colorful characters and, of course, its own types of merchandise.

And although Boston might not have the vast fields of Brimfield at its disposal, it does have lively neighborhoods and large buildings. Abandoned warehouses aren't just for struggling artists to use as loft spaces any more; they can now be renovated to house all sorts of enterprises, including flea markets.

SoWa

So what's a SoWa? It stands for “South of Washington” and refers to an area of Boston's South End that extends from Massachusetts Avenue to Herald Street and from Shawmut Avenue to Albany Street. Once a zone of old warehouses, the neighborhood has been converted by some of Boston's best creative minds into an expanse of markets, festivals, galleries, studios, restaurants and unique boutiques.

The SoWa Open Market (460 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA) is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from the beginning of May to the end of October. There you will find vendors of original handcrafted artwork, vintage items and more. The whole family can enjoy the food trucks, games for the kids and music.

Though much of the activity in SoWa is held outdoors, don't overlook the indoor SoWa Vintage Market (450 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA), which is open all year long. The Vintage Market has more of a traditional flea vibe, with its smallish but varied offerings of offbeat, odd and unusual vintage items, along with furniture, clothing and vinyl records.

About Cambridge and Somerville

Though Cambridge and its neighbor to the north, Somerville, are not technically within the Boston city limits, they are just across the Charles River and, more importantly, are included in Boston's public transportation system, the MBTA. The Red Line "T" stops at Central Square and Harvard Square in Cambridge, and you can find stops at Porter Square and Davis Square in Somerville. The "T" is probably the best way to get to the fleas in these two towns. Driving is difficult, and parking can be impossible.

The Central Flea

The Central Flea is the most recent venture of Chris Masci, who for several years managed a market adjacent to the SoWa complex. His new market (95 Prospect Street, Cambridge, MA) is located in Central Square, an artsy, funky neighborhood running along Massachusetts Avenue close to MIT. It is described as a "Brooklyn-style flea welcoming all styles of goods from vintage and antiques, Afro-punk, imports, handmade crafts, live street art, food trucks, and much more." Plus, there are plans to have mini-classes in both painting and gardening during the hours of the market. The Central Flea is still finding its bearings, and the schedule has yet to be completely resolved. Check the website for details. This one sounds promising.

The Flea at MIT

Tech geeks of all ages, rejoice! The Flea at MIT, aka "The Swapfest" (32 Albany Street, Cambridge, MA), is a paradise of amateur radio, electronic and computer equipment, miscellaneous gadgets, plus antique and obscure pieces of technological history. You never know what you might find—one year, a NASA space capsule was on view here. People come looking for bargains, components for various projects including robot parts, gizmos of all sorts and curious items of unknown origin. The Flea at MIT is held the third Sunday of each month from April through October. Your little engineers will love it.

The Somerville Flea

Davis Square is home to a diverse mix of people, from working folks to students to activists and entrepreneurs. Here you'll find a large creative community of artists and craftspeople. Tufts University is just a few blocks away, and the Davis Square "T" is only a few stops from Harvard Square. With all that vitality going for it, you know that Davis Square's flea market is going to be pretty special. Their motto—Reclaim + Repurpose + Rediscover + Reconnect—is right on target. The market does all those things and more. You can find everything from artwork made from salvage to vintage furniture to memorabilia in any number of collecting areas. You might even run across a stack of those treasured comics your parents threw away when you were a kid. Also available are live music, food and even local produce. The atmosphere is always cheery and bright, with lots to look at and lots to do. The flea is held every Sunday from May till October smack dab in the middle of the square (52 Holland Street, Somerville, MA).

When Is a Flea Market Not a Flea Market?

That was a trick question, of course. Flea markets are always flea markets, but sometimes they go under other names. One such case is the Cambridge Antique Market (201 Monsignor O'Brien Highway, Cambridge, MA). Yes, it has antiques, but the overall feel is that of a huge indoor flea, where 150 dealers offer a wide range of used merchandise on four floors: furniture, toys, tools, kitchenware, ephemera, books, clothing, accessories and a lot more. It even has a section for old bicycles! Cambridge Antique Market is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Since it is a co-op open six days a week, it does lack the festive air of many flea markets that are open only once a week or once a month. Still, anyone who is seriously in search of unusual finds will have a great time here.

The Appeal of Flea Markets

What is it that draws people to these markets? What is so irresistible about them? For some, it's the thrill of the treasure hunt, for who knows what rarity is lurking in the next booth, just waiting for that one special person to find it? Some folks have a special collecting interest and go from booth to booth hoping to add to that collection of paperweights or inkwells or sports memorabilia, or whatever it is that fascinates them so. Professional dealers go to these markets, too, looking for under-priced items they can resell. There are many who wander through the aisles looking for memories, for objects that represent their nostalgia for days gone by.

Many flea markets have more than merchandise. At outdoor events, especially, live music is often offered, as well as demonstrations of crafting, games, clowns, magicians, dancers and a whole lot more. They offer much to attract the attention of younger kids who might not be as interested in the goods for sale as their parents are. Co-ops and indoor events, however, may be somewhat toned down, and smaller children could become impatient and fidgety. When deciding which flea markets you want to check out and which ones you think your child would enjoy, consult an avid flea-goer friend or even look on the market's website. Photographs of past markets can give you a good idea of the ambience.

Put on your most comfortable shoes, bring along a push-cart or large bag for possible purchases, and have fun!

About the Author

Judith loves cats, books, and road trips with her husband. She was born in rural Indiana, studied English Literature at the University of Chicago, and has lived in Chicago, Boston, Deerfield, MA and now Louisville, KY. She owned a bookstore for several years and is a past-president of the Mass. & RI Antiquarian Booksellers. She edits novels and stories, and makes pictures which have been shown in galleries and juried shows. She loves to write, and her motto is "stay curious."