Nova Scotia

Online marketplaces brought an end to Cape Breton's well-known real-life flea market

The Bargain Hunters Flea Market has been a destination for treasure hunters since 1980, but has recently struggled with a lack of venues and more people turning to online marketplaces.

Bargain Hunters Flea Market launched in Sydney in 1980 with just 18 vendors

The last Bargain Hunters Flea market, held at the County Arena in Coxheath, attracted more than 100 vendors. (Facebook/Sydney Flea Market)

A weekly market in Cape Breton has closed its doors after four decades as a destination for treasure hunters in search of secondhand gems. 

When the Bargain Hunters Flea Market launched in 1980, it included 18 vendors that attracted roughly 2,500 customers to the shopping centre in Sydney, N.S.

George A. Peters, owner of the thrift market chain, said the industry hit its peak in the 1990s before Sunday shopping was legalized in Nova Scotia. Markets could be held in malls on Sundays when the buildings would otherwise be closed. 

"I used to see people coming in, they'd get wiped out in the first two hours. There would be nothing left on their tables," said Peters. 

"I watch people leaving and when they're going out the door, very rarely I see somebody not carrying something that they purchased."

Shopping and selling habits are changing

Peters, who just turned 80, said it's been hard to find spaces to rent for the market that has often made appearances in Sydney, and North Sydney. At one time, Peters ran more than a dozen operations around the Maritimes. 

But he said fewer people are bringing unwanted items to flea markets and instead opting to sell them online. 

"It was quite a successful business over a long period of time, but times have changed," said Peters. "We weren't getting those new vendors that you really need to make it successful or continue making it successful. That combined with selling online or shopping online … it was pretty obvious that it was about time to pull the plug."

A final market took place at the Cape Breton County Arena in Coxheath earlier this fall. 

Peters said running thrift markets was a side business in addition to his job as manager for the province's former Consumer Affairs Department. He said the market idea was passed onto him because he was already renting tables and often went to malls looking for a space to sit and conduct provincial outreach.

Starting point for budding business owners

Cindy Holloway has been attending Sydney area flea markets since she was a child and started selling her own wares there a couple of months ago. 

Holloway said the market will be missed because it allowed people to find bargains and gave budding entrepreneurs and artists a space to draw in customers.

A Sunday flea market that's been running Cape Breton for the past 42 years is shutting down due to a lack of suitable locations and a change in shopping habits. (Facebook/Sydney flea market)

She said some people rely on the market as their only source of income. 

"A lot of entrepreneurs really depend on it … so I think it's going to hit a lot of people really hard," she said.

"With so many young entrepreneurs around just being at the flea market set up with their tables —  just the face to face, one-on-one interaction, I find it's the best overall."

Peters said that he hopes someone else will continue the tradition of organizing flea markets so that longtime vendors will have a space to sell and so people like himself will have a place to gather. 

"It's been a heck of a run. I've met some wonderful people over the years," he said. 

"We've had great vendors, some of the vendors have been with us for about 30 years. My regret right now is that I'm not going to see all these people that I've seen year after year, after year." 

Peters said in absence of a regular flea market, he expects there will be many more yard sales in Sydney's future.



Erin Pottie


Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 17 years. Story ideas welcome at

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