Life Lessons Learned Working at San Jose's Flea Market

It's safe to say that if you grew up in San Jose, or the larger Bay Area, the San Jose Flea Market is a big deal. Now a fraction of the size, "La Pulga," as a lot of folks call it was to be shutdown back in 2010 to make way for BART in San Jose. Some of the vendors who remain reflect on what they've learned working in this unique place.

My earliest memory of the San Jose Flea Market was walking around with my mom and sisters looking at all the stands. I noticed my mom made friends with the vendors she would buy from, frienship was the underlining investment. At that time I thought of the Flea Market as a place to shop, get some ice cream, and play with animals or play in the arcade. This image changed when my parents started their own business there. It went from being a fun place to pass the time to somewhere I now worked as part of something greater. Not many 17-year-old girls can say that they help their parents out in their business, and thanks to this I've become who I am today. I am a responsible girl for my age, and I have learned great skills thanks to working here from being very social to learning to cope with hard situations. It has also made me very outgoing and able to deal with different types of people of all different backgrounds. 

Helping my parents at the flea market wasn’t a choice at first, but I grew to realize that my family would be in trouble if I wasn’t there helping on the weekends. The luxuries that my parents provided for our family came from those long work weekends. It impacted much of what I enjoyed about life, working there made me thankful for the privileges they provided, this experience changed me for the better.

I came to be aware that the business was no longer a way to get extra money, and it became my responsibility to help it thrive so we could keep enjoying our life with few limitations. I learned that working with my family was an investment in making our lives better.

Kaled's family's stand where they sell blankets
Kaled's family stand, they have been operating this business for about 18 years.

When I see the people who walk pass our stand, I want them to know that I’m not here just to sell, I’m here to make sure my family is ok. If they would only ask, I’d let them know how hard my parents work to make sure everything operates smoothly. Everything isn’t always good, we have had plenty of rough situations. Because of how young I am, people often have the perception that I’m not capable of being responsible, but I see that as an advantage when selling. I think twice about my actions and what I say as well. I have learned to not let a situation get out of hand and to keep my serenity so I don't affect my workplace.

Despite my tactics though, rough situations still arise because some customers associate my age with my ability to assist them. Sometimes I deal with disrespectful people who just go to my stand to harass me and this is a common thing that girls my age working at the Flea Market have to deal with, but people don’t think of it until they see or hear it.

I’ve worked with other vendors beside my parents. It's a completely different experience. I have worked with great people and unfortunately with not so great people. I had a boss that would mistreat me because he had problems with his boss. I have always liked working with my parents and prefer it to working with someone else. My parents have always made sure that I ate something and that I stayed hydrated. It's also more comfortable because I’m not shy to ask whether it is ok to say I am hungry or I need to use the restroom. I think it's easier to be okay with doing something when it's my parents telling me what to do because I have a greater amount of respect for them.

In the eight years I have been “officially working” my parents and I have learned a couple of things that I'd like to share: being patient, being social, and having to be calm in difficult situations is a grace seldom seen, but a virtue too valuable not to be noticed. Other vendors can tell you they’ve learned things just like me, I interviewd a few of the people I've worked side by side with over the years on not only what they've learned, but what makes this place so special to them.


"The San Jose Flea Market is a gathering and community of people, who we live around, but don't get to see. The best thing about working here is the great business, and in ten years there's never been a dull day." - Sunny (pictured above)

"I've worked here for about 18 years. I learned to be a better person working here. The Flea Market is an open market where you can sell and find just about anything. It is somewhere you can go with your family, spend the day and have a great experience. The Flea Market is a place where you can go and get a job if you really want one or need one.” - Fernando Meza

"I've worked here  for 17 years, I am the seller's supervisor. I learned to have a lot of patience and how to deal with different cultures and with that I also learned about stereotypes. San Jose Flea Market is a cultural hub; a place to see different cultures come together. I like dealing with new people. Even though the job is repetitive I get to interact with new people."  - Eduardo Juarez, Jr. (pictured above)


"I've worked here since 2007, I am assistant director of security. I started working here because a friend worked here and I was looking for a part time job, and I wanted the opportunity to work close with the San Jose Police Department. I have learned management skills, patience, how to deal with difficult situations under pressure while working here." - Daniel 

"I've worked here all my life, helping my dad in our family busines to support our family. I have learned to be honest in business, how to respect and learn to communicate with different people in different ways. It can go from speaking a different language to dealing with people with disabilities." - Ricardo Esquivel.

Challenges have taught me that not every situation deserves a reaction and that sometimes doing nothing at all is better than doing something and making the situation worse. In some cases I have learned to be more mature than the person I am dealing with considering the fact that most people I encounter at my job are older than me. I work here because you can see a range of people from around the world, meet different people, and socialize with customers.” - William Murillo

About Kaled Escobedo

Kaled Escobedo is a Debug contributing writer. Recently graduated from high school, she continues her writing and documenting through photography about her daily life growing up in San Jose.

This article is part of the categories: Business  / Community  / Economy  / Photo  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: BART  / Berryessa  / Family Business  / Jobs  / San Jose BART  / San Jose Flea Market  / Vendors 


Great article. Thank you. Shout out to Edward Juarez Jr. I miss your comics! When are you going to make more?!

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