What is a flea market? Definition and examples

A flea market is an outdoor market with stalls that sell second-hand or old goods cheaply. We also call it a ‘swap meet.’ In some places, a flea market sells very old furniture or antiques. In others, it is an outdoor market that sells old things at a discount. Regardless of how the term’s meaning may vary, in most cases, it is an outdoor market that sells cheap things. Sometimes, the market may have an indoor venue, such as a school gym or warehouse.

Some flea markets charge a fee to enter the premises.

As with most marketplaces that businesses commercialize, many flea markets today also sell baked goods and local farm produce.

In this article, the word marketplace‘ means the same as ‘market in the physical sense of the word.

BusinessDictionary.com has the following definition of the term:

“Outdoor market utilized by vendors to exchange discounted new or used merchandise for money. Flea markets are usually operated in an outdoor facility and may charge shoppers a minimal fee to enter the premises.”

Flea Market
For some people, shopping in a flea market is serious business, for others it is just an afternoon out.

Etymology of flea market

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and expressions and how their meanings have evolved.

There are several explanations for the origin of the term.


In Paris in the 1860s, there was a market that people called the ‘Marché aux Puces.’ The French word ‘Puces’ means ‘Fleas.’

The goods that people sold in those markets were supposedly infested with fleas. Hence, the term in English.

New York

In 18th-century New York, an association of vendors started the ‘Fly Market.’ Stalls sold goods at Maiden Lane near the East River in Manhattan.

According to Wikipedia:

The land on which the market stood was originally a salt marsh with a brook, and by the early 1800s the “Fly Market” was the city’s principal market.”

Flea market – different names

The term ‘flea market’ is not very common in the United Kingdom. Although Britons understand it, they do not use it much. People tend to say ‘car boot sale’ or ‘boot sale.’ A car’s ‘boot’ in the UK is a car’s ‘trunk’ in the United States.

When it is an indoor market, Brits tend to say ‘jumble sale.’

In Australia, a ‘trash and treasure market‘ is the local name for a flea market.

World’s largest flea market?

Once a month, almost one-hundred thousand shoppers come to the flea market in Canton, Texas, USA. The flea market has over 6,000 vendors spread over more than one-hundred acres.

Although shopping in this flea market is supposed to start on the first Monday of each month, it is better to arrive earlier. CNTraveler.com advises arriving on Thursday.

Regarding what type of vehicle to take to the market, CNTraveler.com writes:

“Canton is an excellent place to find beautiful pieces of refurbished furniture – in fact, several boutiques in Dallas will come to Canton a few days early and snag items to resell at triple the price.”

“Ensure that you’ll be able to cart your new-old find home by driving a car with ample space for big-ticket items.”