Jacqui King knows more about “stuff” than most people, but admits there are items at the MoJoSales Flea Market even she can’t readily identify.
Not to worry, said King, who operates the popular flea market at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. It’s all part of the fun and adventure awaiting shoppers, who never know what they’re going to find as they search and sort through the many booths offering a humongous assortment of goods.
“Sometimes there are things out there that you don’t know what they are,” said King, 63, who never tires of the hunt. Her many vendors offer “anything that’s legal,” from antiques and collectibles to tools, toys and building materials.
And, yes, some things defy identification. Those with a keen eye and a crafty inclination can reclaim almost anything, King said, adding that the recycle-repurpose-reuse concept is a boon for both the environment and do-it-yourselfers.
She’s been inviting the public to the flea market free of charge since establishing her business in 2011. Budget-conscious shoppers, savvy home decorators, collectors and browsers can find bargains and one-of-a-kind curiosities at the weekly market, held Sundays throughout the year.
Tables and tarps display goods on the east parking lot; rainy weather moves the market indoors. Five times a year a veterans group hosts sales, with MoJoSales taking its flea market to other locales those days.
Whether prompted by the economy, the lure of making a profit reselling items online, or reality TV shows like “American Pickers” or “Storage Wars” that suggest there are valuable treasures to be found among the junk, MoJoSales is going strong.
“It started out really, really small and it got bigger and bigger and bigger,” King said. She averages about 100 vendors — 140 on a recent unseasonably warm Sunday. About 50 of them make a living selling castaway items, liquidations, yard-sale finds, barn and estate sale clean-outs, wholesale merchandise and goods from defaulted storage units.
“They all know each other. It’s like a community out there,” said King, who arrives before dawn from her Boyes Hot Springs home in Sonoma Valley to oversee set-up and collect fees; vendors with reservations pay $30 per space, walk-ins $35.
“I bring a little bit of everything,” said vendor Justin McGrath of Santa Rosa, a regular seller. “You never know what anybody’s looking for. Someone’s looking for a bulletproof vest, someone else a fan for the bathroom.”
Like most vendors, he doesn’t price his merchandise. He’ll quote a price or negotiate with buyers.
Tommy Johnson, owner of Big Johnson’s Automotive in Santa Rosa, knows from experience how the system works. “If they say 10, you say five. If you plan to pay seven, that’s what you get it for,” he said.
Johnson and his wife, Michele, were out strolling the market with their Chug (Chihuahua-pug mix), Joey, satisfied with the deals they scored on a recent Sunday morning: a used water pitcher with a delicate etching of a hummingbird, and 10 new solar-powered dancing toy decorations for a display at their auto shop.
“We love coming out and walking around and seeing people we know,” Michele Johnson said. She’s been on the lookout for old-fashioned cookware at “good bargain” prices for her retro kitchen.
King, a mechanical engineer before venturing into the flea market trade, said many people head to the sales with no particular purchase in mind. Tools and collectible items are popular, but “some of it’s just impulse.”
“You see all these really interesting things,” she said.
Among the items available on a recent morning: fishing gear, furniture, electronics, a 1981 Miss Piggy drinking glass issued by McDonalds, new-in-package toothbrushes and toothpaste, a Mother Teresa remembrance card, piles of Beanie Babies and other plush animals, jewelry, hats, handbags, a rusted Radio Flyer wagon, vintage housewares, baseball cards, bicycles, sports pennants, clothing and a used Corvette awaiting a new driver.
Vendor Harry Goetz of Kenwood was offering collectible items like Pez dispensers, Coca-Cola bottles, Bob’s Big Boy figures and die-cast cars. He’s spent his long career in the trade, traveling 84 times to Europe, and also to Mexico, the Caribbean, South America and across the U.S. to buy and sell.
What’s popular one era often changes the next. “It used to be old Art Deco (merchandise) but most of the people who collected that are dead now,” Goetz said.
Levi’s jeans are consistently top-sellers for longtime vendor Anna C. (“everyone knows me”).
The tech company retiree from Sebastopol buys used pants in good condition at yard sales and thrift stores, then launders and sells them, typically for less than $20.
Her customers are usually “older gentlemen” who appreciate the discount pricing and the quality of the time-honored Levi’s brand. Searching for merchandise and selling at the market keeps Anna C. busy and brings in some extra income.
“That way I don’t use up my savings,” she said. “And it gets me out of the house.”
Vendor Earl Gwynne of Healdsburg also is retired. He owned a restaurant and later worked for the County of Sonoma but now sells pins, patches, postcards and an assortment of other collectibles two or three times per month.
“It’s quite a community out here,” he said, surrounded by aisles of displays and a steady stream of shoppers. Gwynne enjoys meeting people and even “dickering” to determine prices.
Stewart Guidry, 33, of Santa Rosa has fun browsing at the flea market, sometimes heading over with his parents.
He scored a touchdown of sorts when he bought an autographed Joe Montana football that the vendor couldn’t guarantee was authentic. Guidry paid $50 for the pigskin, had it checked out and discovered he had a true, coveted piece of sports memorabilia.
A San Francisco 49ers fan “born and raised,” Guidry considers the football his top flea-market find.
What’s appealing about the flea market, King said, is that just about everyone can find something affordable, whether it’s a practical item or a special treasure.
“You can save a lot of money shopping at flea markets,” she said, “and it always feels good to find a bargain.”
She knows from decades of experience.
“My whole life,” King said, “I’ve gone to flea markets and yard sales.”
Just don’t look for alcohol, firearms, pornography — or eggs. “The egg lobby won’t let you sell them,” King said.
She stays on the market grounds every week to resolve any problems, and to do her own treasure hunting. Early birds get first pick, she said, but there are plenty of good finds later in the day, too.
King sometimes books belly dancers, hula hoopers, chiropractors and massage therapists; other times nonprofits set up tables to raise money or awareness. She’s had groups like Bibles for America, local nurseries selling plants, and cable TV networks seeking customers.
The flea market “is a tremendous benefit to the community,” King said.
She tries to make the experience positive for vendors and shoppers, who work in unison to save Mother Earth from overburdened landfills.
“It’s really fun, and I love being the boss,” she said. “I feel very fortunate. Not only is it fun, but it’s very lucrative.”
The MoJoSales Flea Market is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave. Admission and parking are free, and food is available for purchase. For more information, visit facebook.com/The.Santa.Rosa.Vets/
Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at email@example.com