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Selling at farmers markets, garage sales and swap meets

In recent years we have seen more and more retirees earning extra cash working part time in open air markets.  99% of them are self-employed and most are earning money by selling something that grew out of a hobby.  They only do it one or two days a week -- giving them plenty of time for other activities.  (Many non-retirees are doing this, too!)

First, let's define an "open air markets."   They can be anything from upscale farmers markets to rough-and-tumble swap meets to gigantic yard sales like the one that goes on for days along 400 miles of highway through the South.

These markets have one thing in common:  they are temporary.  They operate for a day or two, then close down.

Some, a farmers market for example, may spring into action again a week later.  However, they do not require the long-term commitment and expenses that a small retail store does.

Almost all of them require that vendors in the market provide their own canopies and tables.  They may have other rules, too.  And some have waiting lists, so if you are planning to participate in an open air market, call for information.  If you are interested in selling food in these markets, check with your local health dept. too.

One of the biggest benefits of participating in open air markets is low overhead.   The rental fee for a space varies, obviously, from zero for a garage sale on your own driveway to several hundred dollars for a big weekend street fair to as much as a thousand dollars for a big holiday fair.   The fees depend upon the number of people the market operators think will attend.

The number of attendees is not the only criteria for you to consider before you start selling.  The kind of market and its location is also a key to your success.   

A Swap Meet or Flea Market will often attract lots of bargain-hunting customers.  A few words of caution: we know this sounds weird, but if there are stalls where white socks are sold in bundles of 8 or 10, you are in a market where shoppers have little discretionary income.  Avoid this type of swap meet unless you are selling used tools.  Flea markets that charge admission are better because they screen out people who come to events just to look--not buy.

Farmers market strawberries

A Farmers Market is often simply for local or regional farmers to sell their produce to locals.  Some run year 'round.  Some are summer events.  And some welcome crafts people and food vendors.  Most of the people who shop at these markets, particularly ones in better neighborhoods, have the money to buy.  They are not looky-loos.  

Left, A strawberry vendor at the weekly Montrose Harvest market in Glendale, California.

Street Fairs are usually 2 or 3 day events and have relatively high cost space rental fees.  Many are juried and you will have to pay a jury fee separate from the space rental fee to be considered for the event.  Even then, you may not get in.  The promoter sponsoring the Street Fair should do some advertising to attract attendees--who may or may not have money to buy.  There can be a lot of looky-loos at street fairs.  The best of these Street Fairs are sponsored by Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, or local merchant associations so there is community involvement.  Your space rental fee usually supports their charities.

Garage Sales and Yard Sales.  What can we say that you don't already know.  You post some signs around your neighborhood.  Put an ad on Craigs List.  Get your stuff out of the garage and onto the driveway early Saturday morning, then start selling.  Our only caution is that some cities and some homeowner's associations have restrictions on garage sales--usually about how often you can hold one.  For at least two of our extra cash ideas, "Gardening Cash" and "Book Sales", a sale in front of your home could be a great way to start.

If you are looking for a more substantial income after retirement, we have very different advice for you on our Best Retiree Job page.

NOTE:  All names on this site have been changed to protect individual privacy.  The stories are real, the names are not. 





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