Palo Alto High School’s long-running flea market is back, after a pandemic-induced pause. We stopped by the market — held every second Saturday of the month in Paly’s parking lot — to profile some of the vendors that stood out to us.
All proceeds from the flea market (fees vendors pay for their stalls) go toward Paly’s instrumental music programs.
In case you didn’t know, those Hot Wheels from your kindergarten glory days could be good for something more than collecting dust. Because at Mark Johansen’s flea market stand, they’re in vogue.
“Batmobile, that’s like an anniversary set there,” Johansen said, as he walked us through his half dozen cases of Hot Wheels. “Chuck E. Cheese and anything with Jiffy lube — stuff like that — is more collectible than the average ones. But the old Redlines, those are worth the most.”
Johansen’s two-table setup featured mostly toys, but on the day we went, the 20+ year Paly flea market vendor also had artwork for sale.
“I make more having garage sales, believe it or not; [I came] just because I haven’t been in three years because of the pandemic,” Johansen said, with a sort of shrug.
“Five & Dime” by Mandy MacCalla had dozens of artwork pieces laid out on the carpet for exclusively either five or 10 dollars, as suggested by the stand’s title.
“Some of this art are things that I bought out of interest for myself. However, my walls are crowded with art — and my children are mad at me — and so that’s why I brought [them] today to sell,” MacCalla said.
MacCalla said most of her art was acquired at the Friends of the Palo Alto Library’s book sale, the bargains of which allow her, in turn, to price her artwork at an affordable price.
“I definitely look for anything that is signed by the artist, anything that’s either an original print of some sort or a painting,” MacCalla said.
This month’s flea market was MacCalla’s first since the pandemic. MacCalla exclusively sells at the Paly flea market as a hobby.
Vinyl is back, and Barry Mills has got you covered. Or if you’re looking for an alto sax, he’s got you covered too. Or a blender. Or picture frames. Or a 2008 reproduction of Coca-Cola’s original 1899 bottle. Or whatever.
CDs and records are his main thing, though.
“This is a business in retirement, just to keep me busy,” Mills said. “If I had to live on this, I’d starve.”
It might be a business in retirement, but Mills has been selling at flea markets since his teens, and at the Paly market long before the pandemic pause (he couldn’t recall exactly how long).
Maybe surprisingly, Mills said that while his CDs don’t sell nearly as well as his records, people still snatch them up to play in their cars. And it’s a pretty diverse crowd that stops by his stand.
“Right now, it’s all kinds of people,” Mills said. “There’s the old folks like me that still like the records. And there’s such a new market for the young people who are really getting into vinyl.”
Martie Coffman’s stand had dozens of colorful bracelets which were intricately handcrafted by herself. Jewelry-making is a personal hobby she got into just last year — but it’d be hard to tell upon first glance.
“I’m a late bloomer,” Coffman said. “I just [used] YouTube videos, basically. I’d see a video and then make my own thing; just learn the technique.”
Coffman uses a variety of techniques in crafting her bracelets, from wire braiding to “stretchies” to coil techniques. Whenever she and her husband aren’t traveling to flea markets, Coffman sells her bracelets on online platforms Mercari and Poshmark.
“This is our first time here,” she said. “I’ve been to the San Jose one twice, I’ve been to Berkeley, [and] been up north to Sebastopol.”
Radio DJ-turned vintage clothing collector Chuck Norton has come to the last two Paly flea markets with a rack of handpicked clothing from thrift stores.
“I had a long radio career,” Norton said. “I worked as a DJ for many years, and I just started collecting [clothes] when I had time … lately, I’ve been doing several flea markets.”
Norton’s clothing rack hung attractive pieces such as vintage Hawaiian shirts (“they don’t make shirts like this anymore”) and vintage Stanford merchandise.
“I sell mostly vintage clothing [that] can go back to the 50s,” Norton said.
Norton has been going to flea markets on and off since the 1990s, a hobby he adopted through his passion for clothing collection.
“It’s just a hobby. I buy a lot of stuff and if I see stuff that I think I could sell, I’ll do that,” Norton said.
TIBETAN GOLDEN LOTUS
Generally, vendors at the flea market have items that — while unique and specific to their own niches — could probably be found at most garage sales and thrift stores if you looked hard enough.
But that might not be the case with the Tibetan Golden Lotus. The stand, which was manned by Tashi Tsatan on the day we visited, specializes in 100+ year old Tibetan antiques, jewelry and textiles.
Tsatan helps out his mom (who owns the business), and said the Golden Lotus has a permanent store in San Francisco and is trying out the Paly flea market to see what business is like.
Something that might stick out to the teenage crowd from the stand’s other products are the crystals labeled with various healing powers, which could very well draw skepticism from the more critical. But Tsatan had a pretty good take.
“It’s all about whether you believe it or not,” he said. “Even if it’s helpful, if you don’t believe it, it’s not going to help.”
Mike Georgette’s flea market stand is dedicated solely to Mad Magazine memorabilia. But now, he wants “to stay married,” so he’s gotta start selling some of it.
“It comes from a collection I started when I was 13 years old,” Georgette said. “It was kind of taboo back then. You kinda had to hide them in the closet from the parents.”
Georgette doesn’t sell any of his stuff online, but instead specializes in selling at street markets. When we visited him at the Paly market, it was his third time there.
But beyond just wanting to stay married, Georgette has a bigger goal.
“[I’m] trying to get kids to collect again,” he said. “To see that it’s a hobby, it’s fun and that it’s an ongoing process.”