The Gypsy Marketplace

Over the last year or so, my daughter and I have moved deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market. Of course, I’ve been dabbling around the edges for a while, as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a local craft fair, especially those which occur around the end of the year, deliberately planned to enable the amicable separation of their money from someone shopping for suitable seasonal gifts. The first of these that I participated in – strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. It was incumbent on the authors, though, to bring some signage, informational flyers, postcards and business cards, and perhaps eye-catching to adorn the table. But a couple of years ago, my daughter started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and last year we decided to partner together at the community market events within driving distance, and within our ability to play three-dimensional Tetris in fitting everything into the back of the Montero. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down is much, much easier.

By the gypsy entrepreneur market, I mean that loose community of local small vendors, providers of small farm-grown produce, meat and dairy products, specialty foods (to include sauces, pickles, jams, nuts and jerky) artisans, artists, crafters of every art, carpenters and cabinet-makers, potters, painters, sign-makers, welders and more who have no fixed retail outlet, but participate in weekend markets and fairs on a regular basis. They may very well have a website, or a business Facebook page, but that is usually as far as it goes. Food trucks fall into this category, and so do the handful of boutique operators who have a remodeled trailer or RV as their place of (mobile) business. Mostly, the gypsy entrepreneurs make do with a pop-up canopy (the nice kind with attachable zip-up walls for shelter, shade and a degree of security), tables, shelves or stands to display the goods, signage, chairs to sit on, a cashbox (and sufficient bills and coin to make change) and means to process credit card payments, like the little Paypal credit-card reader which attaches to an iPad or iPhone. (This is one of those great recent developments for small-scale vendors doing this kind of thing. It’s been nearly a year since someone wrote me a paper check, and most people simply don’t plan to carry around great wads of cash now – even for a day at the local market or craft fair.) Many of the gypsy venders also have tall mesh stands, panels or folding screens to hang items on, or to attach narrow shelves for a wall display. The goods for sale are packed into collections of plastic tubs in between shows, and the wise vendors often have a sturdy hand-truck or wheeled cart to shift it all, especially at those markets where one must park a good way from the venue. The hard-core vendors have a trailer to haul it all around; the really hard-core follow the markets and live in an RV.

Typical local market - this one is at Boerne, Texas.
Typical local market – this one is at Boerne, Texas.

Many vendors, like us, have a day job, or several day jobs. I’ve talked to enough of them to get a sense of this, and now we’ve begun to see the same vendors, circulating through the same regularly-scheduled events. They create on their own time, and bring it to the local market circuit on the weekends. Some are hobbyists, doing it for fun and exposure. Some – especially the farm products vendors – do it routinely as a part of their marketing plan, and others do it intending to grow the business big enough to have a permanent retail outlet. I suspect that for most of the gypsy entrepreneurs, it’s the new-old game, a kind of revision to the medieval version of trade fairs; a small family-run business run from a home or a farm, with regular appearances at the temporary markets.

7 thoughts on “The Gypsy Marketplace”

  1. Just curious, but I would think that what you call the gypsy entrepreneur market has potential to grow into a replacement/supplement for the normal marketing chains as the number of retail outlets falls [due to supply chain problems, competition from larger chains, or government interference in the market]. No small number of them look to the old Renaissance Fairs/Markets as inspiration, and those were what sufficed in the period before nationwide/world commerce. Can you see them as an alternative market in the event of “interesting times”? At least in lower population density areas.

    Besides lower overhead, there is the advantage of the ability to do barter of skills more directly, out of the financial mainstream, and without interference.

  2. I could, SB – it would depend on exactly how “interesting” things get. The various venues do usually charge for a table or a booth, but some of the others (especially the farmer’s markets that aren’t in a high-end venue) may not. I can see a lot of barter developing, even if many of the goods offered are more of the luxury boutique-type item things. At the last fall market we were at, I scored a huge natural cow-hide to do some chair-seat upholstery with from another vendor who gave me a whacking great discount … the hide was an unpopular color and I was another vendor.
    What I would like to see – and maybe will, if things get REALLY interesting – is a farmer’s weekly market like what I used to see in Greece. On one day a week, in every neighborhood in Athens, a couple of blocks of street would be marked off, and the farmers would come and set up little booths to sell whatever they had. Lemons, eggs, potatoes, artichokes … whatever. It was fresh as fresh could be, better quality and cheaper than what was available in the supermarkets

  3. My wife came back from a market today bearing a pot of Spanish honey – avocado honey. Pretty much the last available from last season, she says.

  4. Bear in mind the transaction on your iPhone will be logged and tracked by the NSA, by Apple, by your ISP, and God knows who else. And if you say the wrong things or mess up on your taxes, the smashmouth power of the regulatory leviathan will come down on you and destroy everything you’ve built and take everything you earned, a la China or Russia or, you know, one of those *other* totalitarian kleptocracies.

    Girls running lemonade stands aren’t safe. No flea market in America will be safe either… and the more ‘interesting’ things get, the more pressing the need for more taxable revenue. And if we can curbstomp our ideological and social foes while we’re at it, that’s a feature. Not a bug.

    Pay cash.

  5. Phil, I have a very good local CPA who does my taxes … he’s a Vietnam vet and has been doing them since 1995. I consulted him about buying the business, so he is all on my side. And this is Texas, after all…

  6. Local fairs, markets, bazaars are an excellent way to see lots of neat items created by actual Americans, including tools, clothes, utensils, good fresh food, and much more. Also, if you want to start a business they’re an excellent low risk test venue to allow you to refine your offering. The extra cash doesn’t hurt either.

Comments are closed.