For over 50 years, shoppers and sellers have flocked to the De Anza Flea Market, swapping collectibles and curios.
Visit the De Anza College parking lots on the first Saturday of the month and you’ll find hundreds of vendors selling graphic band tees, succulents, Troll dolls, Crocs Jibbitz charms, tote bags, vintage furniture, woodwork and other hidden treasures.
For more than 50 years, the De Anza Flea Market has drawn vendors and shoppers throughout the Bay Area, raising money for the community college’s student government and activities. Each month, the market includes about 813 vendor stalls along with an assortment of food trucks and, at its peak, has attracted 15,000 to 20,000 visitors per month. The event now brings in approximately $300,000 annually for the college and helps foster community among De Anza students, sellers and shoppers alike.
“We really appreciate both the shoppers and the vendors coming because it’s such an important revenue for our students,” said Dayna Swanson, flea market coordinator and special events coordinator at De Anza College. “It’s definitely a community event and it’s one of the longest-running flea markets in California.”
Frank Crane is a retired real estate broker living in Morgan Hill who has sold tables, benches and commissioned pieces that have a “rustic” feel at the De Anza Flea Market for six years. The 90-year-old wears coveralls with dark blue denim knee patches because he spends so much time kneeling while woodworking.
“People are so friendly, both the vendors and the customers,” Crane said. “I can go up to any vendor and they’ll talk with me. Other people will come up to me in the flea market and say, ‘I’ve got a tree in my backyard. I don’t know what to do with it. You come over and look at it.’”
For the larger pieces, Crane works for around 100 hours, starting by cutting down a tree into slabs and letting them cure. Crane brings the pieces to the flea market as samples, and customers can request that he adapt the pieces to meet their needs. The first piece that Crane created for the flea market was a birdhouse for the people moving into his old house. The new owners suggested he sell his work at the De Anza Flea Market.
Even though selling his work was new to Crane, woodworking was not. In high school in Ferndale, a small town located in the Northern California redwoods, Crane took four years of woodshop. When he came to San Jose State University in 1951, he didn’t even know how to dial a phone or cut his hair because he was so accustomed to an agricultural lifestyle: feeding the chickens, milking cows and cutting firewood as the only way to stay warm, he said.
“When you’re cutting firewood, you have to learn how the wood works,” Crane said. “I brought those skills back when I retired and really took it up as a hobby, coming here to the flea market.”
June Hyatt worked in customer service in the trucking industry for 40 years and is a veteran flea market vendor, coming to the De Anza market for 13 years. Each time, she switches up her display. For the month of August, Hyatt designed her stall with pink everywhere in light of the Barbie movie release. She dressed up vintage dolls, from their tiny shoes to their colorful hair ribbons, sold alongside books, albums, Crocs Jibbitz and various tchotchkes.
“During the pandemic, a lot of people didn’t have a way of getting rid of stuff, so they give it to me. We’ll also go to estate sales and garage sales. My house is full of stuff,” Hyatt said.
Driving from Hayward takes time, but Hyatt comes to De Anza because of its people, she said. Other places shut down due to COVID or had security issues, but at the De Anza Flea Market, she feels safe, she said.
On the day of the flea market, Hyatt gets up at 4 a.m., leaves Hayward by 5 a.m., gets to Cupertino by 6 a.m and sets up by 8, when the market begins. Then until 2 p.m. she stays at the stall, leaving only for bathroom breaks.
“I love this spot. I’ve been in it for 10 years and the lady across from me has been my friend for years,” said Hyatt, who leases the spot for a six-month period. Vendors can also lease spots on a monthly basis.
Lesly Chavez attended West Valley College and has been helping operate her family’s succulent stand at the market for three years, also selling weekly at the Capitol Flea Market in San Jose. While her family is from San Jose, the succulents come from Watsonville, Half Moon Bay and all the way from Korea.
“My favorite plant to teach people about would be the Haworthia succulent,” Chavez said. “They’re very beginner-friendly and you can have them indoors. I like to collect them.”
Chavez didn’t originally like working with plants, but as she grew older, she became more interested in the hobby. Getting to speak to shoppers who specialize in collecting plants is also very rewarding, she said.
“With this flea market, there’s a lot of different variety of people and ages. At the other flea market, it’s mostly people between their 30s and 40s. But here you get to speak with people who are older or college students, who are a big customer base,” Chavez said.
Swanson, De Anza’s flea market and special events coordinator, was in charge of reopening the market after its COVID closure. She developed a new application system through Marketspread, where prospective vendors create profiles and fill out forms online. Before, people had to mail in their money and applications, which took around two weeks.
Vendors who are selling more than twice a year require a seller’s permit from California, Swanson said, but people getting rid of collectibles from their homes can do a one- or two-time stint at the De Anza Flea Market without a permit.
All of the flea market employees who aren’t vendors are students, who help out with check-in, greet shoppers and answer questions. Students also make up the Flea Market Committee, which comes up with new ideas for the market, including a recent mini flea market. Select vendors came on campus during the week for the smaller iteration to promote the monthly Saturday market. The committee hopes to expand its food truck offerings and build up its clientele to pre-COVID levels, Swanson said.
Every time Swanson is at the flea market, she hears stories from shoppers who have come for decades.
“Everybody has a story and it’s a community for our vendors as well,” Swanson said. “A lot of them share their stories of participating in the market for so long. Others just want to share stories about their family or their business. At the beginning of my time, people were just really struggling trying to keep their business afloat, but now it’s more about being happy to participate again.”
The De Anza Flea Market takes place on the first Saturday of every month, rain or shine, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. For more information visit deanza.edu/fleamarket.