Pilgrim Church Flea Market - an Open Air Market that Works in Uphams Corner
The Pilgrim Flea Market, in operation for decades, is an open air market institution in the Uphams Corner community. Not for everyone, the market sports vendors whose primary language is other than English as is also true for the customers. Vendors with a no-nonsense attitude have put up with customers wanting "something for nothing" for too long but are still willing to haggle and "offer deals." Well worth even the atmosphere, this mini-shopping mall is a great way to spend a Saturday morning - 540 Columbia Rd in Dorchester.
The Pilgrim Church flea market is well known to Uphams Corner residents who enjoy looking for surprises, haggling and getting good deals.
Vendors arrive early (7am) every Saturday to secure one of only a limited number (15 or so) of sales spots within the Pilgrim Church parking lot. Each vendor pays $20 for permission to set up to set up for their day's sales extravaganzas but must bring their own equipment - tables,chairs, tarps, umbrellas and canopies.
The timing is perfect since the Pilgrim Church, itself, has an early start time on Saturday as they prepare food and drinks for their Boston Common outreach (9am) and their community lunch (12N).
The vendors who return every week, reflect a tenacious desire to succeed. One woman left the parking lot, looked back saying "They're rude!" and five minutes later, returned, undaunted.
Reflective bartering (vendors automatically making a counter offer in order to secure a sale) is common. A metal and glass etagere (How much? $30) was automatically reduced to quince (Keen-Say) dólares. Speaking of that, the flea market sounds like the United Nations - Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole and American English are all mixed together with vendors and customers helping each other in the sales translation process.
Bargain Basement Format
We all know of basement bargain outlets that heap their clothes on waist-high flat surfaces so customers ca pick through them – in contrast with the more traditional clothes on hangers. This enmasse practice goes one step further at the Pilgrim Flea Market.
Not even waist-high, the clothes are heaped on tarps set on the ground. Photographs of the market in action show customers less often standing and more often bent over as they fish through clothes on the ground. According to Rev. John Odams, the most successful vendors are often those who attract the "fisher people," the ones who like hunting through piles of clothing to find exactly what they want.
The real question is not the ambiance, the language, the clutter or the category of goods being sold but rather the extent to which what is being sold and how it is being offered meets the needs of (some of) the residents of Uphams Corner.
While there aren't many works of art for sale, one customer ask a vendor: "Do you have any silver?" "Yes," he said and pulled out a tray of jewelry hidden from view. A veteran flea market customer, she knew that quality merchandise is not left out unattended on the tables.
This author made a "killing" at the flea market in June. A wary shopper, I was surprised to find so many useful items and not because "the price was right" although that helped. For $45 I purchased a heavy duty Black and Decker convection oven (so much better than the Hamilton-Beach toaster oven I was using), a costume jewelry pearl necklace which looks great, perfume, heavy-duty aluminum measuring spoons, a Delco cutting knife, a battery-operated watch that works, a Pyrex baking dish, a fully tempered glass bowl, a jewelry storage box and a black coffee mug.
A Market Years in the Making
Rev. Odams says this flea market has been operating successfully for many years - recently for the last ten years with a hiatus and prior to that, for decades. Ten years ago, when they were restarting the market, the organizers experimented with many different types of advertising before they were able to finally create "a marketing habit." A permanent sign in the church's front yard reminded passersby and, in the early days, they were open only when customers had money (2nd and 3rd Saturdays of month).
Ten years later, the flea market is an institution for the community. It doesn't open if the weather is bad but otherwise, you can drive by on a Saturday morning, look for a place to park, come on over and enjoy the multi-ethnic open air shopping market of Uphams Corner.
Similar flea market / yard sale events, also sponsored by local churches, take place during the warm weather months in Uphams Corner. The Universal Church on Dudley Street holds yard sales almost every week with tables set up along the sidewalks in front of their church. The seventh day Adventist church on Stoughton Street holds yard sales on occasion in their parking lot offering really good bargains.
As open air markets, these delightful, busy, industrious and energetic flea markets / yard sales seem to offer a much appreciated and useful business format for many of the residents of Uphams Corner.
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Posted: July 10, 2014 Nancy J Conrad