Currently in its 55th year, San Jose Flea Market remains a popular destination for families to shop, play and eat throughout the week and on the weekend.

On any given weekend visitors can find more than 1,000 vendors, shoppers picking up fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market, children playing in the amusement area and families grabbing a bite to eat.

The flea market was founded by George Bumb in 1960 after he was inspired by local swap meets during a 1959 visit to Southern California. His youngest son Brian Bumb now oversees the market and has added attractions beyond shopping and great bargains, including rides, a farmers market, food vendors and live music.

Bumb sat down with to talk about his experience at the flea market and what he hopes to see in its future.

How would you describe the flea market?

The buzzword from a vendor’s point of view is that the flea market is a “small business incubator,” where people can come from anywhere and try their hand at business. A lot of immigrants and people from out of state have come here to sell things.

The market was one of the world’s largest when my father started it in 1960, and though it’s been downsized slightly since the economic downturn in 2007, there are still hundreds of vendors selling a lot of merchandise here. It is such a diverse market, you’d be surprised how diverse our customers and vendors are that roll in for the day.

You grew up around the market. Did you ever think that one day you would be running it?

I am surprised I’m running it. My father started it in 1960 when I was just a year old, and I basically grew up here. In the process of growing up—and through osmosis, I guess—I got knowledge of market, how it works, and what our customers want to see.

What are some of your favorite stops inside the Market?

I don’t know if I have any favorite stops. It’s phenomenal to walk down produce row (the farmer’s market) on a Sunday. It’s wall to wall with people and watching interactions within families that are here and their interactions with vendors is really something to see. I do make it a point on most weekends to walk around, visit with vendors, keep a rapport and figure out what’s important to them. It’s always nice talking to them and hearing how the market is working for them.

Why was it important for your family to make the flea market not just a shopping destination but a place for families?

It was an evolution. When my dad started it, I don’t think he foresaw what a family-oriented day at the market would become. Back in the early days, it was the flea market providing a place for people to clean out garages or to try to sell tools or whatever. Over the years, we catered to people’s wants and began selling more retail items.

It was just a swap meet before for people to come out and barter, but to keep people out here we created parks and produce row. It grew into this thing with 40 to 50 vendors selling items. Now there are beer sales, French fries, soda and a place for people to take load off and watch the mariachi band. I don’t think dad saw it that way and now it has become that for a lot of families. It became a gathering place for a lot of people and families who come to the Flea Market 20 or more times a year.

The flea market is a regional destination in San Jose. How does it coincide with the culture of the city?

For a long time, it gave blue-collar customers and immigrants a place to be and feel comfortable as opposed to, I think, places like Santana Row or Valley Fair. It gave people a place to shop with their families while stretching the dollar. In the heart of San Jose, it’s made a place for the working-class community, creating a place to gather, and I don’t think there is another place like that.

Also, in August and September you will see a flow of college students who come out to get a good deal on furniture that someone is getting rid of, and for them to stretch a dollar means a lot. They’ll come out here grab a beer with friends, people watch like crazy and get some furniture for their dorm or frat house.

What are you looking forward to in the future of the market?

The biggest thing is BART coming in 2017. I look forward to getting a lot of people from the North Bay coming to the market. I look forward to people jumping on BART, coming down and checking out the flea market.

The San Jose Flea Market is open Wednesday, Friday Saturday and Sunday from dusk ‘til dawn with some exceptions for holidays.

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This article was published in partnership with San Jose Flea Market.

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