New Orleans Flea Markets…More Than Parades, Beads And King Cakes
When you think New Orleans and Mardi Gras…think FLEA MARKETS, not just jazz, Hurricanes (drinks that is) and Monday morning regrets!
Neighboring the streets where you hear shouts of “Hey Mister, throw me some beads”, sit some of the most fascinating flea markets that further enrich the culture of New Orleans. If like me, you enjoy experiencing more than the large tourist attractions when you travel, you will love going to the flea markets in New Orleans.
Found in a pre-vacation online search for “fleas” to include in our annual trip to NOLA, I was lured to see first-hand why no one wanted me to know about the “flea market under the bridge” in this post by Michael Patrick Welch. http://www.vice.com/read/the-hidden-new-orleans-flea-market-no-one-wants-you-to-know-about Why did no one want me to know about this flea market? I had to see for myself.
Algiers Flea Market
This hidden market takes shelter from often formidable New Orleans weather conditions in the shadows of the West Bank Expressway bridge complex, just over the Mississippi River and across from New Orleans city center.
As flea market early risers, at dawn, my husband and I were privileged to land a street side parking spot on the narrow gravel path that encircles the trio of “sections” which define the boundaries of this sub-culture. When we left the market that day, we realized what a prize we had in this early-bird gift! The streets later became snarled with vehicles of all sizes trying to shimmy into any space in the small confines of inadequate parking.
Stalls were make-shift and sparse with inventory and vendors upon our arrival. Typical discounted liquidation specials such as cheap kitchen wares, pirated CDs and DVDs, knock off purses, shoes and “high-end brand name” blue jeans, were available in the perimeter booths of the mini market village.
Resellers of over-priced garage sale type finds anchored a couple prime corner spots. I was able to spot a rare piece or two of identifiable collectible glassware…also significantly overpriced. I did buy a rhinestoned New Orleans baseball cap for myself because it was different and much cheaper than anything at the souvenir shops on Bourbon Street.
It came however, with a no-price-bargain option! I wanted it. Price paid.
While initially disappointed at the all-too-common flea market, mass produced, Made in China offerings, there seemed to be a “soul” to this venue that kept us intrigued. It didn’t take us long to discover the heart of the market where the food vendor stalls are centered.
Ever mindful of flattened cardboard boxes and slices of plywood underfoot that protected us from mud, we slowed our way through to the delicious scents of sizzling authentic Central American cuisine. Sweet and savory smells sucked us further into the vortex of delectable aroma through a cavernous maze of slippery pathways. All pathways let to a palette of ethnic foods to tempt even the most discerning appetite. Meats, vegetables, baked goods…all regional fare with requisite condiments.
Though we passed on trying any of the local hot-off-the-grill dishes, the delicious scents of the sizzling fares lured us to walk back through the food “court” a second time. OK, not lying…we did get a churro on our second pass!
Encaged by the four walls of the flea market village is treasure and bargain hunt paradise. A sectioned-off area, with only 2X4 studs defining each space, revealed a cavern of tightly packed stalls with bins of wares to dig through. Single dangling light bulbs illuminate the way. If you are a “digger”, you hit pay dirt. Dimly lit and crowded, this area offers the best bargains. Clothing, tools, alligator heads…take your pick and name your price!
Upon exit, what could make your New Orleans local flea market any more authentic than a couple of freshly baked mini sweet potato pies sold from a cooler! Oh yes, we did! And I’m telling you…they were DELICIOUS.
We didn’t buy too much but we definitely satiated our thirst for a new adventure. Soul wins out over finds at this one.
Nearing the noon hour, the crowds had swelled, the vendors now manned most of the rickety wooden shacks and the market was in full Saturday morning tilt. We were happy that we had made it a point to visit this flea market.
Still not quite sure why it’s labeled a flea market that that no one wants you to know about. The people sure seemed inviting and welcomed an obvious tourist. I would highly recommend a visit to this flea market. Though we didn’t find any unique treasure that we couldn’t live without, and while tightly spaced, old and definitely in need of more sturdy tenting, the Algiers Flea Market is a cultural experience that is sure to give you a glimpse of life in New Orleans that you won’t find in any travel brochure.
Jefferson Original Flea Market…or Never Judge a Flea by Its Building
While time did not allow us to take in more than a couple of flea markets during this year’s trip to NOLA, we decided to stop into one that we passed going to and from our hotel into the city. I was in need of some clear plastic to protect my Mardi Gras parade regalia and was sure that I would find it here. Certainly this highway storefront with yellow weathered peeling paint would offer me a fine selection.
Boy, was I surprised! It turned out to be an amazing antique mall, packed to the rafters (literally) with every imaginable antique and collectible you could imagine. And a personality that is truly New Orleans!
With only one foot inside the front door, all thoughts of looking for visqueen vanished and were instantly replaced with “treasure hunt” mentality! Digger bliss!
Once adjusted to the dim interior, my eyes began darting everywhere, landing only momentarily on any single item before another more succulent find came into focus. Peeking down long and narrow, booth after booth, all I could see was another nook or cranny packed ceiling high with antiques and collectibles…both regional and international. There really seemed to be no end to each booth.
While it was like a typical antique mall set up, what I LOVED about it was the very obvious New Orleans flavor. Whether it was because of Mardi Gras week or not, everything NOLA was front and center…as well as buried deep within. Purple, green and gold sparkled at every turn. Jesters jeered from creepy old masks. Old carnival posters, costumes, beads, icon collectibles, crawfish boil pots…you name it. If it hinted of New Orleans, it was here somewhere.
It bears repeating…these booths were PACKED! There was one area of the three floors that we inched our way through, where a vendor was trying to get to a particular item and had his goods lined up out in the narrow hall way just so he could get a ladder in to reach it!
Though packed, it never felt junky or dirty. A bit dusty smelling, as you would expect, but never dirty.
I did find a couple of items that I could not live without. M negotiating skills failed me to even a penny lower in price with either of my two buys here, but I wanted the items, so again…paid the price. I respect the deal.
My hands-down favorite booth was the booth of Madam Mel, Mystic Reader, and Spiritual Advisor.
Perhaps because I have never encountered such a unique experience in an antique mall, or just because of the unusual display, this booth really fascinated me. Madam Mel sat serenely in her dimly lit booth surrounded by voodoo dolls, gris-gris (talisman) and ju-jus. Though I initially did not notice her silent presence, once I initiated a conversation, she lifted my spirit and brightened the day. I was intrigued by her spirit. She was extremely friendly and eager to share her story with my husband and me. She explained to us that many of the dolls in her booth were salvaged from Bourbon Street locations when the original Voodoo shops there closed down, others she had made herself and uses in her practice. She is an active practitioner. It was fascinating to listen to her stories. She eagerly offered her contact information for anyone who wishes to reach out to her: MdmMel@aol.com I still don’t know much about her practice or science, but I do know that Madam Mel has a kind soul and was gracious with our request to hear her story.
The historical influence of voodoo to New Orleans culture is everywhere in this great city, including the flea markets. This is just another example of the rich history and culture that makes up the fabric of NOLA and her diverse retail industries.
The next time you visit New Orleans and travel Airport Drive to get to or from the airport, save some time in your itinerary to stop at the Original Jefferson Flea Market at 2134 Airport Drive, Kenner, LA. You will be glad you did. Friendly people, great finds and lots of New Orleans history.
I hope you have enjoyed my view of a couple of the great flea markets in New Orleans. I hope to add more when we visit next year. If you have any questions or would like more information about our travels to flea markets in the US and Europe, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Happy flea travels,