Sarcophagus, anyone? Itchy for antiquity? Though it’s no longer there, for many months you and your forklift could have scooped one up at Brunswick’s Waterfront Flea Market, despite the cold outside.

How about a pair of mint-condition grey suede chaps – with fringe (hi-ho, Silver!), a postcard of Ebbets Field, a 1961 Playboy magazine featuring the “Girls of Sweden” or a working 1915 Victrola? Do rows and rows of GI Joe’s float your boat? They’re all there for the taking, or rather, for a somewhat negotiable price.

Whatever your predilection — and spurred by programs like “Antiques Road Show” that promise the possibility of riches in Aunt Bettina’s Bakelite brooch — four feet of snow is no reason to forgo that hallmark of summer’s halcyon days: the flea market.

In fact, contrary to what some may think, three area flea markets, unlike the backyard garden, are decidedly in full bloom despite the season, with savvy shoppers discovering everything from vintage mink, Wedgwood creamers and Tiffany lamps to more practical finds like kitchenware, TVs, books, musical instruments and tools. Primarily held indoors, the occasional snowy outdoor store for hardy Maine souls also exists, such as the Pride’s Corner Flea Market in Westbrook, which is indoor/outdoor.

Flea markets originated in the Middle East as outdoor markets, and the first official one was held in Paris in the 1860s. Today about 5,000 exist in the U.S. For customers, they can serve as a tactile trip to the past and a source of education (how about a 19th century spinning wheel or an audio book on the life of Jackie Robinson?), not to mention the pure social and entertainment value of a day of discovery.

For Jed Harrington, a 13-year vendor at the Waterfront Flea Market (seven as manager), overseeing 50 to 90 vendor spaces in the Fort Andross Mill-based market is a natural evolution of his years as a weaver and potter, selling his wares.

“I lived in Haight Ashbury in the ‘60s — I was a hippie,” Harrington affirmed, his space filled with jewelry and antiques, among other things. When someone points to the behemoth bleached bison skull for sale on his wall, a theme dominant in the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, the contemplative Harrington recounts tales of breaking bread at the Abiquiu, New Mexico, home of the artist herself. The link: a friendship with O’Keeffe’s companion Juan.

An up market in a downed economy

Referencing the bruised economy of the past few years, Harrington said that like most everything, the Waterfront Flea Market, which is open weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,  has taken a hit, but is slowly on the upswing — helped by customers who come early for coffee and stay for lunch at the snack bar.

One vendor, who declined to be identified, said he has dealt with changing times by selling items like kitchen equipment, tools and clothing – things that are more of a necessity, and at reduced prices.

Dave Griffin, who works during the week as a truck technician, refurbishes old radios, TVs and phonographs, some dating from the turn of the last century – redolent of better times – which he sells with a partner.

Vendor Bob Dyer, a fixture at Waterfront Flea Market for nine years, features military paraphernalia among other items. A 1960s Russian naval assault unit cap graces his display case and a Naga Indian basket with monkey skulls looks out from his wall – the Nagas being headhunters in the northeastern part of India. “I’ve collected things since I was a kid,” he said, a rare 1902 15-jewel Waltham pocket watch perched to his left.

In Oxford, Bert Morin has owned the Undercover Antique Mall and Flea Market for the past 14 years, having been a vendor there first. Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the market boasts about 130 vendors selling antiques, collectibles, primitives (handmade kitchenware; baskets; carved wood products), tools, videos and DVDs, antique and new furniture, glassware that includes Roseville, Weller pottery, Yellow Ware bowls from the turn of the century, and – oh yes – Beanie Babies. A gigantic “book nook” displays hundreds of paperbacks for about a dollar each. Morin said there is something for everyone, including a mound of antique and contemporary snowshoes, with merchandise ranging in price from 50 cents to around $1,000 and a snack bar at which to refuel for marathon shopping.

Over in Westbrook, Mike Breton, marketing director of the 50-vendor-strong Pride’s Corner Flea Market, said some customers are attracted largely by the fabled luncheonette. “People come for lunch sometimes – for the fish ‘n’ chips– without using the flea market,” he said, though most can’t pass through without eyeing the gold and silver jewelry, old rock ‘n’ roll records and turntables, and vintage Nintendo games. The chance to win some cash isn’t a bad proposition either, as a 50/50 drawing is held on Saturdays and Sundays, where the winner walks away with half of the spoils (the other half goes to offset advertising and marketing costs).

“This is the first year we’ve had enough interest to also set up outside,” Breton said, despite several feet of snow. With winter hours on weekends from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Breton said they often open the doors an hour before for early-bird shoppers.

Said Waterfront Flea Market’s Jed Harrington: “Flea markets are a lifestyle rather than just a business.”

Waterfront Flea Market

14 Maine St.

Brunswick

207-729-0378

Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Undercover Antique Mall and Flea Market

960 Main St.

Oxford

207-539-4149

Seven days a week: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pride’s Corner Flea Market

33 Elmwood Ave. (Route 302)

Westbrook

207-400-2609

Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (no Friday hours in winter)

Also: there are other flea markets in Maine, but many come and go. So ask around and network at the flea markets you do find. These two are listed, as described, on http://ezinearticles.com/?Finally!-A-Comprehensive-List-of-Maine-Flea-Markets&id=3493901, which appears to offer an updated listing of flea markets in Maine. Hours and season of operation are not indicated.

Pa’s Tradin Co.

1190 Main St.

Oxford

Just down the way from the Undercover in Oxford, Pa’s is a bit smaller and a bit less discriminating, but still had some good stuff tucked away — and is absolutely worth a jaunt down the street.

Sabattus Antique Mall

519 Sabattus Road

Sabattus

It’s a little small and a bit of a drive, but if you’re from the area or passing through, stop here! Some highlights include retro cameras and vintage toys, and the prices are more than fair.


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