When Nancy Lee opened her “flea market with a twist” in July she had just over a dozen merchants with booths spread out in her new shop.
Fast forward five months and The Flipping Flea has tables, stands and booths for 45 merchants, each packed side-by-side in the Norge shared retail store.
Lee said they even have a waiting list for vendors hoping to set up there, as her sales floor has expanded beyond the main room into smaller rooms off a back hallway. Even the hallway is a sales floor: Christmas stockings are hung with care, and for sale.
Merchants rent space in Flipping Flea and Lee lets them display their merchandise. Customers shop as if each vendor is its own small department, picking and choosing from all of the individual businesses.
They then purchase their items at a single point-of-sales, and Lee cuts a check to the vendors for their profit.
“Whenever I can stroke a check, as many as I’m writing to these small businesses, it’s such a wonderful feeling,” Lee said. “We’re all successful together and they’re all having this opportunity to do this without having to be here.”
Monthly sales have increased by 60 percent since July, Lee said.
When Flipping Flea opened, the store had merchants like Tickle Me Pink Boutique, which sells tote bags and backpacks, and Janey’s Treasure and its collection of vintage glassware.
Since their opening weeks about 30 new merchants – and their assortment of Christmas decorations, home decor, craft goods, refurbished furniture, clothing and apparel, and candy – have moved in.
“It’s all the merchants that together have made this a very warm and inviting and exciting shopping experience, and the customers really like the vibe,” Lee said.
Wythe Candy moved into a roughly 20-by-14-foot space directly to the right of the front door. Lee said they’ve been a popular merchant, especially as word spreads among upper James City County residents that they don’t have to drive to Merchants Square to get their Wythe fix.
While Wythe is already an established business, many of the businesses in Flipping Flea are start-ups or side hustles, and by selling their goods through a shared retail concept, the owners are freed up to pursue other avenues of income.
“The merchants are here to make a living, not get rich,” Lee said.
Many do stop by the store each week, or even more often, to speak with customers, Lee added.
Several are even first-time business owners, like the owner of Nicholas’ Big Chance. He’s 14 years old, and has a booth in Flipping Flea. He sells antiques and other rare finds that he gets by going to estate and yard sales.
“It’s so inspiring to have children that are learning to do their own business,” Lee said.
Sweet Babe Farmhouse owner Sharon Adams said she appreciates the environment she’s found at Flipping Flea. She continues to sell her goods at Granny’s House of Crafts in Yorktown, where she’s been for 20 years.
“Everybody is friends here,” Adams said, adding her candles, homemade fire starters and melting tarts have sold well at Flipping Flea since she set up a booth in the summer.
Lee still runs her own booth, Always a Happy Hour, behind the sales counter.
“I just sit back and watch it all because I’m the anchor that put this here, but it’s all the merchants that together have made this business what it is,” Lee said. “It’s an army here, it’s not just me.”