ST. PETERSBURG — Rosey Williams is the woman behind the little market that could.
Indie Flea started as a couple tables on the sidewalks outside her vintage shop. Now it’s dozens of booths, a multi-city collaboration, a tourism destination and Williams’ full-time job. It’s become a launchpad for small independents, and a boon to draw people into the neighboring brick-and-mortar shops and eateries.
October marks the fifth year that Indie Flea has set up shop — well, several shops — near Green Bench Brewery on Baum Avenue in the downtown Edge District every first Saturday of the month.
Indie Flea runs in St. Pete from October until April. But year-round, Indie Flea vendors can also be found on every third Sunday inside of Tampa’s food hall, Armature Works. It’s become an “it” spot, where shoppers can find anything from cute plants to cross stitch wall-hangs, gourmet dog treats and handmade deodorant.
Even now, Williams said she has roughly 600 hundred vendor applications to sort through. We sat down with Williams to talk about the market’s success.
Let’s start at the beginning. What was the inception of Indie Flea like?
About six years ago, I had a vintage store on the 600 block (of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg). That was sort of a renaissance time for that area, where all the artists were starting to emerge. We were a part of that movement. And on Saturdays — we happened to have a lot of artist friends — and I’d say, “Come set up on the street.”
We also noticed once we were doing that, once we had people on the street, it was a draw to all the businesses there. We noticed we would have our best day on an Indie Flea day. From there, it just started growing. It got to the point where we wanted to make things more official.
At the time, there was only the Saturday Morning Market. St. Pete really needed an alternative market that wasn’t for farmers, but for artists, crafters, makers and vintage.
How has the volatility of retail, and the changing habits of shoppers affected Indie Flea? What do you do to combat it?
I feel like once Indie Flea first started we noticed people savoring the market experience versus retail. We’re seeing that becoming more popular and a better way — a more lucrative way — for independent businesses to make money.
So, people are still coming to the event, but are they shopping was the question. Certain times of year we still want to keep that education of the importance that people do still need to shop when they come to the event. It’s not a place to be seen or socialize. You have to actually shop.
This summer has been amazing. This year, in general, has been amazing. The sales have been great and the vendors are really happy. We’re doing a lot more marketing that’s helping attract tourists.
Overall, I feel like to get shoppers away from online shopping carts and into physical retail spaces you need to provide an experience, right?
Exactly, and we try to be consistent so it’s not just this random one-off experience. That’s great for the vendors and for the people shopping, so they can plan to get their products at those times.
It’s obvious to any onlooker how much you’ve grown in terms of vendors, but are there any other expansion plans?
We’ve started experimenting. We were in North Carolina and we went to Miami this last year. We are looking to expand but also focusing on what’s going on here in the bay.
We’re looking at Chattanooga, Tenn. and also Asheville, NC. We have really great connections in Gainesville. We do that once a quarter and have a really great following there.
For those who haven’t gone to Indie Flea yet, what’s it like?
They can expect to shop with local vendors and experience the different collaborations that are going on in St. Pete.
Expect really great music and anything that’s hip and fresh and exciting in the area.
The next St. Petersburg Indie Flea will be from noon to 4 p.m. on Nov. 2. The next Tampa Indie Flea at Armature works is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 20.