The Portland Flea—the city’s perennially coolest open-air marketplace for vintage, upcycled and handmade clothing, furniture, jewelry, and all manner of pretty things—opens its 2022 season Sunday, this time with a bit of a plot twist.
For the first time in its decade-plus history, the Flea is going weekly, founder Kate Sullivan says. That means that its 70-plus of vendors will set up shop every Sunday between now and October, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Nova building at SE Second and Clay. In previous, nonpandemic years, the Flea has been monthly; now, instead of seven markets per year, they'll be staging 30.
From the start, Sullivan says, she’d wanted a weekly market, like the Camden Passage Market in Islington, London, which inspired her when she lived there for a stretch in the 2000s, or the Brooklyn Flea, which pulled off the neat trick of updating the fuddy-duddy, fusty image of the flea market for a millennial cool-hunting audience when it opened in 2008.
The Portland Flea has hopped locations since its inaugural season in 2011, from a lot behind Rejuvenation, where Sullivan used to work, to the Union/Pine event space to its current perch, but has remained committed to the Central Eastside Industrial District, a close-in neighborhood that has seen an increase in its houseless population, particularly with temporary shelters placed along the east side of the Willamette River, as well as a big dip in foot traffic thanks to empty offices. The goal is to help draw people back to the area, Sullivan says.
“There's so many other places that we could have done the Flea," Sullivan says. “But I’m not moving it to Lake Oswego, or wherever. This area of town needs the Flea.”
That brings her to the weekly format. When she launched the first Flea, back in 2011, she wasn’t sure she had enough vendors in place, or enough product, to sustain a weekly market, she says. Since then, Portland’s vintage scene has grown exponentially, and so has the interest in buying secondhand.
But not everyone has the patience or the eye to spend a Sunday successfully pawing through the Goodwill bins; here, the vendors have done the work for you. There's still the thrill of discovery that comes with a just-right find, just from a more tightly edited and presented set of items. (And the bins, with all their many charms, don’t have fun, rotating food options, like the mobile bartenders with Booze Trucks serving brunch-y favorites like mimosas and Bloody Marys, plus other seasonal cocktails, coffee from Nossa Familia or guest food trucks like this weekend’s planned appearance by Fried Egg I’m In Love.)
Sullivan can’t pick a favorite among the vendors, who pay $115 for a stall at the market each week. But we recommend keeping an eye out for the demurest of printed ’60s and ’70s-style dresses from Roots Shops Vintage, the splashy, bright T-shirts and chunky jewelry from OURStore, the off-kilter furniture and housewares sourced by Things.PDX and the lovingly curated vintage jackets, boots and more from Switchblade Sistas.
(Speaking of furniture, that’s one thing Sullivan would like to see more of at the Flea—as vintage lifestyle stores like Urbanite and Vintage Pink, where vendors can set up and sell on consignment, have risen in Portland, few vintage furniture vendors have been finding their way to the Flea, where they have to install and take down their wares each week.)
"We've just been really happy that we've been able to take it weekly, because that's always been a little bit of the downfall of it because people forgot about it. And then you had to start again,” Sullivan says. “We're really excited about what the momentum could be for this weekly cadence of the event.”