It’s just after 8 a.m. on Sunday morning and the Wellfleet Flea Market has opened its gates to customers. Vendors are still setting up as a box truck pulls into the back of the Wellfleet Drive-In Theater’s movie lot, where the market is held. People flock to the truck, searching the objects inside for additions to their own inventory — enjoying their own neighborly brand of insider trading.
Wandering the maze of tables, you begin to see there’s a kind of organization to the scene: newer objects like clothing and sunglasses can be found close to the gate, while antique and vintage items take up the space towards the giant screen. Sprinkled between, you’ll come across collections of antique glassware, books, or African masks.
Sanoussy Berete sits beside a blanket on which are displayed dozens of such masks. It’s a family business, says Berete, who’s been selling at the flea market every weekend for 25 years. Some of the masks are selected by family in Central and West Africa, others he brings back himself. He used to go once or twice a year, before the pandemic.
Manager Wendy Wiley drives along the rows of tables in a white golf cart, chatting with vendors as she passes. There are two ways to book a spot, she says: reserve vendors pay $80 to $160 in advance for the whole summer, and their spot is reserved for them. Others line up before the market opens, pay $30 for a weekend day or $25 for a weekday, and hope they’re early enough to snag a prime spot. Last Sunday, July 11, there were around 80 vendors. That’s a good day, says Wiley.
The more vendors turn out, the pricier the entry fee — a carload of shoppers pays between $1 and $3 to get in.
Beyond charging more for end spots than middle ones, the flea market leaves vendors more or less to themselves. Almost anything is fair game to sell, so long as it’s not illegal or offensive, says Wiley. During the summer, it’s open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays — weather permitting.
Beth Sherwood, who sells kitchenware, has been a vendor since 1981. “It’s a lot of fun, oh my gosh,” she says, smiling behind her table loaded with finds she buys at yard sales and estate sales.
Down the row from Sherwood, on the other side, sit tables covered with cameras. Kevin Coedy has been buying cameras for 60 years — he has an inventory of 10,000, dating from 1850 to 1980 — and fixing them up to sell. “It’s a disease,” he says, laughing. He sells at the flea market for fun. Coedy is a reserve vendor, but he still arrives at 6 a.m. because it takes him two-and-a-half hours to set up.
Many of the cameras that come to Coedy contain exposed film, which, if kept away from sunlight, will last for decades. Occasionally, if it’s an old camera, Coedy will send the film out to be developed, hoping for something interesting — like the original film of the Hindenburg disaster that his friend happened upon and sold for $10,000. While Coedy hasn’t found anything valuable, he has gotten some laughs. In one case, he met an older couple from whom he bought a camera. The film was old, so he developed it, and when the pictures arrived, he discovered intimate photos of the wife from decades earlier. He mailed the photos back to the couple. “I think these are yours,” he told the husband.
Wander a few more rows and come across antique jewelry and glassware curated by Marie Forjan, another reserve vendor. Forjan comes to the flea market every weekend and sells to a lot of regulars. “After a couple years, I started recognizing people, and they remember me, too,” she says.
People come from all over for the Wellfleet Flea Market, which promotes itself as “Cape Cod’s Biggest and Best.” (The one in Sandwich lays claim to being the “premier” flea.) Here’s what’s certain: this is the Outer Cape’s one and only.
When you come, bring cash, as some vendors don’t take credit cards. For those not inclined to shop, there’s a playground onsite. Or grown-ups may head for the Beer Garden.