Walt Borton


A couple weeks ago, walking the aisles of The Flea at El Museo—the indoor flea market I launched on the Santa Fe Railyard in 2009, one of our 90 vendors steered a customer to me who asked, “Why is it called a “flea market?” The question sent me to Google. I not only found an answer (the market north of Paris, which is a few hundred years old, has long been called marché aux puces, Market of the Fleas), but quite a bit more.

On the website for the oldest flea market in New Hampshire, The Hollis Flea Market, appears the following:

Flea Markets are the incubators and breeding grounds of entrepreneurs . . . the only opportunity available for a person to start a business without a large layout of capital and long-term commitments.

It was one of those “I-knew-that- but-I-didn’t-quite-get-it-before” moments.

In 15 years doing promotion and marketing for antiques shows around the country, I had tried, to no avail, to convince my show-producer clients to promote antiques as “ultimate recycling.”

In July of 2009, at the suggestion of a real estate developer, my then-business partner Sarah Cook and I launched a small Saturday-only market on the Oshara Village plaza on Richards Avenue. We started talking about recycling and promoting sustainability, hoping to attract more young people and encourage them to decorate and dress from the market, equip their kitchens and shop for gifts.

Now, with my own enterprises, The Flea at El Museo in the winter and The Flea at the Downs in the summer, I’ve tried to assure that both markets contribute to Santa Fe’s economic sustainability not just through recycling and repurposing all manner of objects, but by providing a local sales outlet for community artists and craftspeople.

The Google foray to re-discover the origin of “flea market” spotlighted two other important roles played by The Flea. First, both winter and summer markets provide entrepreneurs with unique business development opportunities. At least four former Flea vendors have, in recent months, used The Flea as a launching pad to open new shops in downtown Santa Fe.

Of our current long-term vendors, more than 10 have shops or galleries in other locations, and use The Flea to grow and promote their enterprises without investing in full-blown expansions. For about a dozen current vendors, The Flea has made possible their transition to a new, less-demanding and potentially more profitable retail activity.

And those vendors comprise less than half our market. The capacity of a community market to make retail real estate affordable and provide what is essentially co-op advertising and promotion possible, while encouraging individual businesspeople to take full advantage of their own look, their merchandising and the power of their personalities, provides important stimulus to our local economy and to its “part-time” entrepreneurs.

Some of them have “day jobs” and are supplementing incomes. Some are collectors downsizing collections built over a lifetime, or collectors just starting or building collections. Some are traditional “pickers” on the multi-level “food chain” that comprises commerce in antiques, crafts, fine art and re-purposed or recycled goods. And some are just there for the fun of it— the thrill of the chase, the stimulation of bargaining, the satisfaction of making a “great screaming deal.”

Finally, the why is it a “flea market” quest reminded me that The Flea is the continuation of a millennia-old tradition of community markets. The Hollis Flea Market website history page says:

Albert LaFarge, author of US Flea Market Directory, says,

“Today’s American flea market is a modern version of a phenomenon that has endured throughout history in all civilized societies – wherever there is a high concentration of people, there will be market days when they assemble for the exchange of goods and services.”

Visiting Santa Fe in the 1990s I was delighted to discover Trader Jack’s Flea Market, because it was so much like the amazing markets of Paris, London, Florence, Naples, Madrid, New York City, Boston’s North End and Istanbul. And Jack’s market not only proffered an astonishing variety of great stuff; like every important market in the world, it was a gathering place for an entire community interested in art, craft, design, décor and deal-making.

Today, having completed three summers on The Downs and four winters on the Railyard at El Museo, The Flea is increasingly the sort of community meeting place and social marketplace it was in the days of Trader Jack. And now that Jack Daniel, the originator of that moniker, is no longer with us on this earthly sphere, I am comfortable enough with how we honor his market in our 21st Century version of it, to take some pride in calling the Flea, “Trader Walt’s.”


Trader” Walt Borton has been a university administrator, broadcasting and publishing executive, and management and PR/marketing consultant specializing in communications. Contact: 505 982 2671; email: sfflea@waltborton.com




New Santa Fe Businesses Launched from The Flea:

Barbara Edelman and Jeff Ryan’s Everyday Artifact, on Guadalupe;

Sandi Webb’s Poem in the Casa Sena courtyard on Palace Ave.;

Lana’s House Antiques in Antiques and Interiors on Grant;

The Nile Café, a restaurant on Old Santa Fe Trail


Frequent Vendors at The Flea with Other Business Locations:

Marc Navarro, whose gallery is a Canyon Road Gallery institution;

Lloyd Nelson, Antique Connections in Albuquerque;

Dana Waldon & her high-end purses, The Scout Collection, in Antiques and Interiors on Grant;

Bert Waldo, shops at Jackalope and Santa Fe Mall;

Lhakar Dolma, with a shop at Jackalope;

The Silk Shop, with a shop at Jackalope;

Ann Lawrence Clothing Design on Baca St.;

Maya Jones Imports, Travelers Market;

Jonathon Hill, Travelers Market;

Bette Rossen, Travelers Market;

Ignacio and Caroline Villarreal, Travelers Market;

Ravinder Sandurya, Travelers Market


Current Vendors who have made the transition from large retail enterprises:

Leith Johnson & John Martinez from an antiques store in Las Vegas, NM;

Barbara Simpson from an antiques store in the Design Center;

Kathryn Bennett from an antiques store and coffee shop in Española;

Coyote’s Paw, from a shop in Sanbusco Mall;

Janice Lynn Phelps and Jack Lanstrom’s Leather Wizards from a shop on Santa Fe’s Plaza;

Hamilton Montgomery from an Interior Design business in San Francisco, CA ‘s Design Center;

Allen France, from an antiques shop in Pojoaque;

Mackenzie Allen From a Midwestern Auction Business;

Maya Jones, from a shop in Madrid, NM




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