The Christmas snowmen and toy soldiers at Holly Cleeland's small tented stand in the Rose Bowl Flea Market drew admirers Sunday, but not many buyers.
It wasn't that there was a shortage of visitors to the Rose Bowl on the kind of perfect, toasty autumn afternoon that has forever drawn snowbirds to Pasadena. There were thousands of shoppers, but not enough of them were spending, several merchants said
"Five or six years ago I sold $800 worth in a couple of hours — in the rain," said Cleeland, a Burbank artist whose fingernails were a bright Christmas-y red. "It's a whole different mentality now."
Fortunately, Hanukkah starts Dec. 1 and the menorah signs at Cleeland's Lawn Cheers booth sold quickly, leaving for that holiday a few small dreidel images on stakes to stick in the lawn.
"Hanukkah stuff is selling," she shrugged.
Orange County merchant Jerry Graham was sold out of his $15 molded signs with a skull and crossbones that warn "Man Cave." Meanwhile, his hand-carved wooden tiki masks imported from Indonesia that run about $60 weren't moving so well.
"People are thinking about Christmas, but they are not buying," he said.
About 15,000 to 20,000 people typically attend the flea market, which is held on the second Sunday of every month, said Dennis Dodson, the chief operating officer of R.G. Canning Attractions, the Maywood company that runs the event.
November is usually a good month for the flea market, he said, as some people start shopping for the holidays. Others just enjoy the spectacle of a sea of small merchants and their odd or unusual wares surrounding the historic football stadium.
"It's cheap entertainment," Dodson said.
It's also a place where people trying to earn a buck can rent a stand and try their luck.
"When the economy gets bad, flea markets get going," Dodson said. "Americans are going to find some way to make a living."
Among them was Costa Mesa heavy-equipment operator Wallace Atkinson, who lost his construction job in February and now runs a sewing machine instead of an excavator. He and his girlfriend, April Singleton, hand make liners for the front cargo baskets on beach cruiser bicycles.
Their former weekend business, Basket Rags, is now full time, Atkinson said. "I had to pay some bills."
Their bestseller is a pink terrycloth basket liner decorated with pirate skulls and crossbones, a favorite among young women customers who travel by cruiser. It's also the sort of thing — an item not found in every chain store — that buyers expect to find at craft shows and flea markets.
Shopper Sherry Miller of Glendale had plastic sacks full of books and Christmas cards along with some new yoga pants. The flea market is an annual part of her holiday shopping, she said.
While strolling through the antiques section, John and Cheryl Richard said they came from their Covina home to enjoy the beautiful day and perhaps find some unusual gifts. Their only purchase so far, though, was a purse for Cheryl.
A bus that left Bakersfield at 6 a.m. brought about 50 people, including Kathy Hairfield and Phyllis Elrod, who are part of a club devoted to glass and crystal objects. Elrod's favorite purchases by lunchtime were an old-fashioned cookie cutter and a print of a baby painted by early 20th century magazine illustrator Bessie Pease Gutmann.
Art seller Christian Zenger, who works in cargo shorts and flips-flops selling Hawaiian beach-themed images, said the recession has been rough on his business, Vintage-Surf. He sold a mahogany-framed 1909 photo of surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku on Sunday morning, but transactions are way off from what they were in good times.
"If you can't afford your home," Zenger said, "you can't afford art."