Fleamarkets becoming more popular

Little Carlos Avalos was given $1, perhaps enough for a popsicle or a bag of chips.

But for 6-year-old Carlos, it was just enough to buy a used toy.

"Start looking," his father Manuel Avalos persuaded his timid son to rummage through a mound of toys — most not-so-gently-used.

Tenderly, on his tip-toes, he hopped through the pile of puzzles, miniature trucks and stuffed animals. Then, he found his $1 treasure when his eyes met a second-hand, faintly scratched robot, otherwise in fair condition.

Shortly after the find, his 6-year-old attention span wavered. Carlos abandoned the robot, but he took with him the priceless moments of joy, tangibly valued at $1.

The family continued strolling through the swap meet. Manuel Avalos, his wife, Carla Penuelas, and their two children, little Carlos and 2-year-old Kimberly, are regulars at Stockton Flea Market on south El Dorado Street, one of four year-round flea markets in Stockton.

"We come every Saturday and Sunday," Avalos, 29, said.

Clothes, food, household items and, of course, toys, can all be found at bargain prices.

A flea market was once a place to earn extra money by selling your old clothes, collectibles or homemade crafts. It was a place where one could rummage for a 99-cent pair of jeans.

But flea markets have evolved into something more: a lifestyle for regular patrons and merchants making their living by selling goods, rain or shine.There are about 3,000 flea markets in the nation that average more than 600,000 customers each year and together generate a total of $5 billion annually in sales, according to the National Flea Market Association.

Stockton’s swap meets are more than markets; for many they’re a social avenue.