Trading Post offers flea market for beginners

Most flea markets involve early mornings, crowded aisles, random junk and loud barterers. Shoppers line up at the crack of dawn, then spend the day jostling each other and haggling with sellers for lower prices. Melrose differs from most outdoor markets, however, beginning with its name — it’s known not as a “flea market,” but as a “trading post.”

This title aptly describes the market’s atmosphere. It’s not an overwhelming shopping space. Rather, it’s a laid-back, one-stop shop. Unlike most flea markets, which open early in the morning, Melrose Trading Post is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. every Sunday, allowing shoppers ample time to leisurely peruse stands.

Melrose Trading Post is located at Fairfax High School — just a few blocks north of The Grove — in West Hollywood. A hipster paradise, the neighborhood is sprinkled with colorful murals, record stores and clothing shops such as Urban Outfitters and American Apparel.

The Trading Post attracts famous visitors; Taylor Swift and Lana del Rey have both been spotted. So for those of you who moved to Los Angeles with hopes of meeting someone famous, the Trading Post may be the perfect place to celeb-stalk.

After paying our $3 admission, we entered the high school’s quad, which was packed with vendors primarily selling vintage and repurposed goods. Fairfax High School students collect tickets and provide information about the market.

If I’d visited the Trading Post back in August, I would have the most coveted dorm decor at USC. My walls would be covered with hand-lettered signs featuring inspirational quotes, and my ceiling would be draped with tie-dyed tapestries. One vendor sells succulents and cactuses for only a dollar, and I spent way too much time trying to determine how many cacti one human actually needs. Unfortunately, many of the finds, such as pink plush chairs and hefty typewriters, are not practical for a dorm room.

Vintage clothing stalls dominate the shopping space, which is essentially a thrift store for lazy people — instead of combing through piles of junk to find one treasure, someone else has already laid out all of the treasures for you. Everything I’ve ever hunted for meticulously in a thrift shop was right in front of me. Clothing racks are crammed with overalls, cowboy boots, Hawaiian shirts and other typically hard-to-find vintage items. It’s easy to spot the Post’s regulars, dressed in clothes similar to those on the racks and greeted enthusiastically by vendors.

Like many flea markets, the Trading Post relies on other people’s used items. However, instead of simply selling items as is, vendors repurpose old items. One vendor creates clocks out of aging books. Another, Luke Hobbs Design, turns vintage light bulbs into contemporary light fixtures. Detroit Trash simply transforms trinkets from the city’s abandoned buildings into necklaces.

Of course, it’s not a real Los Angeles attraction if there’s not at least one odd novelty. The Real Bugs stand touts earrings, rings and necklaces featuring a diverse array of bugs, as well as scorpion suckers and Dinner for Schmucks-esque posed mice.

Flea market shopping can be approached in two ways: haphazardly buying whatever stands out, or specifically searching for one item. I followed the latter, with a goal of finding a small Buddha figure, of which the flea market has hundreds. This led to my first experience with the Trading Post’s laid-back bartering. As I eyed a small figure, the vendor told me to name the price. I panicked, afraid my price would be too low and that I would offend the seller. I ended up paying $15 for a Buddha which was $5 at the booth next door, and somehow the sale ended with the overly friendly vendor kissing me on the cheek. Don’t worry, I’ll learn to casually barter as well as the regulars by my next trip.

After the cheek-kissing incident, I took a break from shopping to visit the food stands. Trendy food stalls cater to the hip clientele; among the offerings were crepes, gourmet cheeses and candied walnuts.

If you ever suffer from buyer’s remorse, just remember that the Melrose Trading Post serves as a fundraiser for Fairfax High School. The Greenway Arts Alliance originally partnered with Fairfax High and founded the Friends of Fairfax organization in order to fund student activities not included in the school’s budget. Money from the Trading Post’s sales helps with sports uniforms, school newspaper printing and math tournament fees.

All in all, the Melrose Trading Post offers ample ways to spend your Sunday feeling good about yourself. Bring out your inner hipster, negate environmental impact by purchasing used items and benefit a local school all at once.

Erin Rode is a freshman studying environmental engineering and print and digital journalism. Her column, “The Rode Less Traveled,” runs Thursdays.