The 2,000-spot parking lot of Bristol’s Commerce Circle shopping center was quite the obstacle course throughout the day on Saturday, Feb. 29. Cars and pedestrians seemed to come from every possible direction as they navigated the filled-to-capacity lot – a never-before-seen occurrence.
Still, no one seemed to mind the craziness. Even those who were forced to park outside Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and trek several minutes in the biting cold wore smiles of excitement under their winter garb.
After a two-month delay, locals came out in the thousands to celebrate the highly anticipated grand opening of the Bristol Flea Market, located inside the former Walmart building.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Tony Soprano, marketing coordinator of Phila Flea Markets, which also operates an outdoor Sunday market at the Roosevelt Mall. “I was expecting a large turnout, but not this humungous. The parking lot has never seen this many cars, even when Walmart was here, even during Christmas. It was jammed.”
On Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (including a handful of early birds who arrived at 6 a.m.), guests browsed the tables of 300 vendors, with items ranging from antiques and jewelry to clothing, household items and DVDs.
Originally, the Bristol Flea Market set a grand opening date for Jan. 4-5. But on New Year’s Eve, it was determined that the building’s fire alarm system, installed in 2002, was out of code and needed to be updated. Soprano reflected on how, because it was too late to spread word about the postponement, he had to heartbreakingly turn people away who showed up.
Despite the setback, Soprano said he doesn’t see the delay as the worst thing.
“That created more chatter online and in the community,” he said.
According to Soprano, Bristol is the definition of an “antique town,” with stores such as Another Time Antiques, Canal’s End Antiques and Bristol Antiques Market sprinkled along Mill Street. With the Bristol Flea Market in full swing, one of his goals is to boost visitation at these shops. Fliers for each were displayed at an information booth located near the entrance.
“By the end of the day, those fliers were gone,” said Soprano. “We’re spreading business around not just for us, but for other antique and vintage-type stores in the local area.”
Additionally, Soprano hopes the flea market helps other Commerce Circle retailers, many of which suffered after the closing of Walmart. So far, it seems to be doing just that. Soprano said the DollarTree next door had three cashiers (something that rarely happens) and a constant line down the middle aisle for check-out, while the nearby McDonald’s drive thru saw non-stop customers from 6 a.m. through the afternoon.
The Bristol Flea Market will be open every weekend for the foreseeable future, with vendors alternating on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, allowing regular shoppers to always find new treasures.
“We don’t really have a set lease. We’re here until we go out of business, which I don’t see anytime soon,” Soprano said. “I was stepping into uncharted territory up here. I never ran a flea market in the Lower Bucks area, so I was unsure of the crowd, if they were going to be receptive to it.”
In Soprano’s opinion, there’s just something about flea markets that withstands the test of time … and the digital age of Amazon.
“So many businesses die because of the internet. A lot of big box stores are closing and a lot of brick and mortar stores are closing because everybody orders online now. That’s one thing I don’t think will ever happen with flea markets,” he said. “People like to get in, pick up things, look at them and touch them before they buy them. That’s something you can’t do online. I think flea markets will flourish forever. I don’t think they’ll ever die because of the internet.”
Moving forward, Soprano has plans to expand the social aspect of the flea market, adding a counter so shoppers can comfortably enjoy refreshments by Angelina’s Bake Shop and other area eateries.
For anyone turned off by the parking situation, Soprano stressed that the hecticness was due to opening day, and he only sees it improving.
Individuals interested in becoming a vendor can email email@example.com or call 215-625-3532. For more information on the Bristol Flea Market, visit PhilaFleaMarkets.org. The market is open every Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early birds are welcome, and should enter through the vendor door at the end of the building (the former Walmart Garden Center).
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org