Flea markets have always been a good option for thrifty shoppers in search of second-hand goods and name brands at a bargain. But dealers say they’re not benefiting from the current economic downturn. The economy is just that bad.

Lisa Mindick lost her first sale of the day when she refused to haggle over the price of four bracelets.


When the second customer came to her flea market booth at the Marshfield Fairgrounds on Sunday, she was happy to make a deal.


Mindick and other vendors at the Tri-Town Rotary’s semi-annual flea market said that in today’s economy, customers are expecting more bargains and prices even lower than usual.


To make a sale, the vendors said, they are forced to slash their own prices. And because of the price of gas and other factors, that means profits are way down.


“We make less money, but we make more sales,” said Mindick, a jewelry vendor who lives in Stoughton. “They want to come here. They don’t want to go to the mall.”


Rick Diodato of Middleboro said people are looking for prices so low that he can’t always afford to sell the antique furniture he brings to shows and flea markets.


“They want it for less than you pay for it,” he said.


Flea markets and the like have always been a shopping option for thrifty people in search of second-hand goods and name brands at a bargain. But dealers Sunday said they are seeing fewer customers, making it harder to scrape by. They said there are fewer vendors, and the ones who do show up are not benefiting from the down economy.


The economy is just that bad.


“For the most part, the flea market business, it’s a dying business,” said Roger Aransky of Canton, who sells sunglasses, jewelry, designer shirts and bags. “There are half the dealers, half the customers. People just don’t have the money.”


But that’s not what it looked like in Marshfield. The fairgrounds were filled with people, who paid a $3 entry fee to be able to shop for clothes, jewelry, games, electronics, baby carriages, furniture and collectibles.


Conversations with some of the 4,000-plus attendees suggested that the crowd was no different than in past years. Shoppers were there to spend a sunny day searching for bargains and that elusive unique treasure. The economy was not on their minds. Many attendees left with bags and wagons full of goods.


But organizers said more shoppers were leaving empty-handed than in past years.


“I don’t see as much going out the gates,” said Stephen Ingle of Hanover, a member of the Tri-Town Rotary Club. “A lot of people just come to look.”


Vendors said customers are still buying items that cost less than $20 and products they really need and can get at discount prices, like soap, hair clips, inexpensive jewelry and postcards.


Higher-end, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture or unusual pottery also were selling Sunday. But the mid-priced items that customers want but don’t need – ones that cost between $20 and $200 – just aren’t selling the way they used to.


Vendors had to put up $45 in advance to reserve a spot at the Rotary flea market. If they elected to wait until the day of the market, they had to pay $70.


Jay Flanagan of Pembroke, past president of the Tri-Town Rotary Club and chairman of the flea market, said vendors told him it was the best day of a bad summer.


Mindick, whose booth was busy throughout the day, said vendors can make sales if they give customers the bargains they’re looking for. Jewelry vendors generally did well at the fairgrounds.


Mindick said that first customer – the one with whom she wouldn’t bargain over four bracelets – came back to her table, and she offered her a discount for three bracelets.


“Even if you take off $1, $2, you’re going to make the sales,” she said. “They remember that you gave them a discount. And they come back.”


Sydney Schwartz may be reached at sschwartz@ledger.com.