If you’re making your way to Orlando, the summer mecca for vacationers, by way of I-10, then you have no choice but to pass through Florida’s First Place City, Pensacola. And if you are looking to spend a few of those very few dollars you still have left in your pocket when you make your way back home, you might want to plan on a daytrip so you can spend the day–and your last remaining pennies–at the T&W Flea Market.
Open all day but only on Saturday and Sunday, the T&W Flea Market offers bargains galore and much, much more. For instance, against all odds, the flea market is a great place to eat, offering up one of the best restaurants in the area. This is the place to eat your breakfast and get a quick start on the shopping. The restaurant serves up breakfast items that run the gamut: bacon, biscuits, hash browns, fried onions and potatoes and various kinds of sausage. The portions are generous and the price fits right in with the surrounding flea market. And the food is at least as delicious as anything you’ll get at Waffle House and much better than anything you’ll get at Cracker Barrel. For lunch you can get grilled chicken sandwiches, reubens, soup, fries, corn on the cob, salad. And even a ribeye steak.
That tastes as good as any steak you’ll pay $12.95 for at one of the surrounding steakhouses.
After loading yourself with carbs, or fat, or protein, it’s time to hit the circuit. The market is laid out with a series of long covered sidewalks with booths on either side, rentable for ridiculously bargain-basement prices of from $10 to $15. Anyone can rent a spot and sell whatever they want for a lot more than they’d rake in at a garage sale. Although the traffic is heavy, there’s plenty of walking room and elbow room when looking over the merchandise.
The flea market also offers an indoor air-conditioned section, but these are sustained shops, not available for rent. The air-conditioning really comes in handy during the sweltering Pensacola summer, but actually it’s not horrendous to shop outside for most of the year and there are plenty of opportunities for purchasing a nice cold drink to cool you off, along with ample bathrooms to void your bladder when it becomes too full.
The meat of the flea market, of course, is finding bargains and bargains you will find. Just about every item you can imagine will be on sale at one point or another during the year. (X-rated items are not offered, though suggestive t-shirts are usually available somewhere.) The price you and your vendor ultimately agree on–bartering is optional, though I would certainly encourage it if you think the price is a little too high–is the price you pay as all prices include sales tax. A quick trip down just one aisle this past weekend served up the opportunity to buy fresh fruit at prices you won’t find at any grocery store, several tables covered in new and used (some even shrinkwrapped!) DVDs for no more than $7 tops, and a red iMac for just $300.
Used DVDs and CDs can be found on almost every other table. Recently the flea market was the target of a police operation that cleaned out–at least temporarily–a widespread problem with pirated DVDs and so most of the DVDs that were being offered at least gave the appearance of being the real thing. Even so, one must always keep in mind the prime directive when shopping at flea markets: Buyer Beware. Although most vendors are return customers who can’t afford to have too many complaints made against them, you never know when you are going to be buying from someone trying to make a quick buck with substandard products. On the other hand, I found a vinyl album by Shriekback for $2 and there isn’t a skip or scratch on the circa 1985 album.
Along with the usual items to be found at flea markets: movies, music, clothing, trading cards, toys, tools, electronics and books, the T&W Flea Market often transforms into an underground cavern holding your very own ark of the covenant. One table held a veritable cornucopia of high quality collectible cartoon figures that I later found were fetching prices twenty times higher on Ebay. Another vendor was offering one-of-a-kind African-American inspired reproductions of history’s greatest artworks. Yet another vendor was selling exceptionally well-made canes with incredibly unique figures on the tip.
Along with these you-need-to-be-there-on-the-day-it’s-there items, the flea market also offers an interior air-conditioned section offering up every kind of tool your fix-it person could ever want, including the biggest shovel I’ve ever seen in my life. This handyman’s paradise is larger in size than a three-car garage and the prices are something you will definitely not see Walmart ever rolling back to meet.
One of the most popular items to be found here are knives and knife sets and just in case you think maybe the edges aren’t as sharp as they could be, there’s a professional knife-sharpener who has set up a shop inside.
Several of these knife sets are offered in what may be the most visited section of the flea market. Or should I say sections. Spread out just away from the covered lanes you will find rows and rows of boxes offering up a variety of products for a dollar up to ten dollars. In these boxes range everything from toothbrushes to tools to scrunchies to clothespins to two feet long screwdrivers.
No kidding, two feet long!
And just in case you maybe missed the particular vendor who had exactly what it was you really wanted, the flea market also offers a non-annoying public address speaker who occasionally comes on and lets you know which particular vendor is offering something special.
The T&W Flea Market is a Pensacola institution and it is certainly worth a quick stopover on your way to or from Orlando. Just take the Fairfield ext off I-10 and drive to W Street and take a right. In less than half a mile you’ll be at the site where you just may find that one thing you’ve looking for.
T&W Flea Market: 850-433-4315