Much of the wreckage from an economic downturn washes up at flea markets. Eric Denio has seen the pain of it at Denio's Roseville Farmers Market.
"I ran across a fella in his mid-30s who had this brand-new jetted tub, and it was still wrapped. It had the jets and the motor and everything. I asked him, 'Do you own a construction company? Are you closing something out?'
"He said, 'Yeah, I had a six-bedroom home in Los Lagos (Granite Bay), and I didn't think about the reality of the housing market. I got too big for my britches.
'I lost everything. I'm out here liquidating. I just bought this particular tub. I was going to do a job. The deal fell through. I've got to get rid of it.' "
Denio took home that $3,000 tub for $500. He said there have been many other queries at the flea market run by three generations of his family.
"There was one the other day, a lady, just a sweetheart of a person," said Denio, the company's marketing manager.
"I talked to her for a while, and she had lost a 4,000-square-foot pad. They foreclosed on her, and she had to move into a 1,000- square-foot apartment.
"She didn't know what to do with all the stuff she had. I told her, 'Bring the stuff out here and you can move it a lot quicker than taking it to a house and hoping a lot of cars drive by.' "
A lifetime opportunity?
A flea market just might be a home for a lifetime or two lifetimes, if children take the reins.
Jenny Abernathy will retire in two weeks after 40 years at the Folsom Boulevard Flea Market, 8521 Folsom Blvd., in Sacramento. Ruben and Carol Martinez have run their Fresh One lemon stand on weekends at Denio's for 26 years. Three years ago, Abiking Lirio took over the Denio's booth where his parents had sold artificial trees and arrangements for 20 years.
"I saw the benefits of working this business. I got my two houses from it," said Lirio, who has a degree in marketing from California State University, Sacramento.
Abernathy, 74, worked other jobs at local restaurants and at the Sacramento Convention Center, but whenever she wasn't working for someone else, she was working for herself. Her wares include antique glass, costume jewelry and vintage clothing.
"I have one lady that has had a running layaway for six years," Abernathy said. "She keeps coming back."
Ruben Martinez also has his share of repeat customers, though some are only fair-weather patrons: "We have people who tell us, 'We've been waiting all winter to get a lemonade,' and I say, 'Trust me, folks, we've missed your money.' "
Abernathy's daughter Nancy is mulling the idea of opening a flea market booth in retirement, but Martinez said his children aren't taking the bait.
"They think working 40 hours a week makes them smarter," he said. "I work 16 hours a week. I tell my daughter, 'Baby, tell me who's stupid, OK?' "
Testing the market
Sash Gardner had what he thought was great-tasting salsa, but he didn't know if it would sell. He got his answer at a flea market.
"Denio's was one of my first thoughts because it's something where it's not real formal," Gardner said. "There are not as many requirements as far as what you need, so basically I figured out the requirements for them, plus labeling and packaging requirements. I got my permits and licensing, and then got started there."
Gardner, who works full-time as an analyst for the state Controller's Office, sold 50 pounds of his salsa the first weekend, astounding nearby vendors selling beef jerky, spices and kettle corn.
They had seen plenty of gourmet products fail at Denio's, where sharp customers love a bargain.
"I was charging $5 for a tub of salsa," Gardner said. "I think I was charging $8 for a pound of meat, and then I did deals, two for $9 on the salsa."
Gardner's success gave him the confidence to approach specialty grocers Compton's Market and Corti Brothers in east Sacramento and Taylor's Market near Land Park.
His products are now selling at those stores and at Pacific Market, a convenience store at 25th and P that was his first customer.
It's kept Gardner so busy that he's had to end his days at Denio's for now. Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193.