Behind a garage door on an industrial estate in Cardiff is an Aladdin’s den of second-hand books, clothes, furniture, kitchenware and more – from glasses and cups for 50p apiece to upcycled industrial furniture that gets snapped up immediately after it’s put on sale. It’s hard to call something ‘hidden’ when it takes up a huge warehouse unit just a short drive from a busy city centre, but for many people, Cardiff Indoor Flea Market isn’t yet on the radar.
Operating out in Tremorfa since 2014, the flea market won’t be spotted on many commutes or lunch breaks, but it’s quietly been building up a loyal group of regulars and is home to more than 70 independent traders. Wandering through its main halls, you never quite realise how much more there is to see around the next corner.
On a Wednesday morning, the market isn’t at its busiest – although there are customers walking around, most of the market’s business is done on the weekends. Stall holders chat with potential buyers and banter with each other, while antiques are prepared for auction in the warehouse’s back rooms – while the (cold) air has the atmosphere of a good, proper, old-fashioned market.
READ MORE: Teenager spends all her savings to open high street business and it’s absolutely thriving
Laurie Rossiter, owner of the flea market and accompanying auction house, explained the appeal: “It’s like a treasure trove. You don’t know what you’ll find from one week to the next, and it’s always changing.” There are areas the market always specialises in (any fans of restored mid-century furniture are in luck) but each time you visit you’ll tend to find something new.
After growing up with her dad and grandma, both active in the antiques trade, Laurie made the decision to set up the market in 2014 – but not in its current form. She said: “To be completely honest, when I started the flea market it was going to be an indoor car boot sale. One trader said that to lug furniture back and forth from Swansea wasn’t viable, so we started to consider permanent stalls. Now, having permanent stall holders allows us to build a relationship with them and for them to do the same with their customers.” You can get more Cardiff news and other story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.
Laurie said the market now brought in regular customers, including some older people who otherwise wouldn’t get out of the house often. With a cafe, toilets and free parking on site, as well as wide, wheelchair-accessible walkways, it’s easy to understand why.
But it’s not just older clients – the stall holders are starting to see young people, students included, shopping at the flea market. Richard Salter, who runs Rick’s Relics, a stall selling vintage glass and china, and various other bits and bobs, said: “We get a lot of students in here. If people are moving in to a new home they can start off here.”
He also explained how the market’s stall holders helped each other out when new customers came in. Gemma, who runs Along Came LouLou, a vintage clothing and jewellery stall next to Richard’s, often points customers towards him when they come in looking for 1960s retro clothing, but realise they need a few items for their kitchen.
Richard added: “I’m the ‘lower end’ of the market, doing anything from 50p to £10. What I’ve found is that people come in to have a look around and see the furniture for £300, but they’re not in that market and they still want to walk out with something.
He said business was “going fantastically well,” adding that he got a “buzz” from the quick turnover of stock – he estimated that around 35% of it was turned around from one month to the next. “Anything that’s unloved today will be loved tomorrow,” he said.
Attracting younger customers is key – a lot of the stalls, including Vintage Treasure UK and the Brown and Orange House Of Vintage, have their own Instagram feeds. Lisa Watts, proprietor of the latter, sells 60s, 70s and 80s kitchenware from a full kitchen in the middle of the market which is painted bright orange. You can read more stories about Cardiff here.
Also, working as a carer, Lisa often takes her wares with her to her elderly clients who have fond memories attached to the designs, which they might not have seen for a good decade. She said: “We’re a bit different from the others, everything I sell is practical and usable.”
She said that people were starting to be more fond of having retro items in their kitchen – “even something to hold your teabags instead of leaving them in the box,” and added: “It’s really a much better way of shopping. When you buy something from here, someone’s used it for a lot of time and someone else is going to continue using it.
And even the most traditional of flea markets need to get with the times and get on board with TikTok. A recent visit from Abbie Walsh-Greenfield, a TikToker who shows off the best things to do on a day out in south Wales, saw new customers coming to the market and citing her video when asked where they’d heard about it.
Despite increasingly opening itself up to the social media generation, the market retains an old-fashioned charm. When you think of a market, the first thing that comes to mind is probably haggling – and Jubs, proprietor of Aunty’s Attic, said she still did it when she sold her china and collectibles.
Jubs (as she’s known to all the other stall holders and customers) said: “I do haggle with people. They need to think that they’ve gone away with a bargain, and I need to have made a little bit of profit. I don’t want to make a fortune off this. If I’ve bought something for £20 and it turns out to be worth £100, I would rather sell it for £50 and have that money to spend on something else, than have it sit here.”
As we’re chatting to Jubs, Richard walks past and makes a jibe about which of their two stalls is the more upmarket. It’s all good-natured (the two refer to each other as ‘china chums’), and it sums up the friendly atmosphere of the whole place. Jubs, who started her career as Cardiff Council’s first female gardening apprentice in an otherwise-male group, is more than ready for a bit of verbal back-and-forth.
She first became a trader at the market when she walked in to sell a few items she didn’t need, and soon found herself sharing a stall with a friend before eventually opening her own. She said: “A lot of what I sell was bought from auctions or people who will contact me when they’ve had a relative who’s passed away. It’s always a bit sad because you’re going through people’s items and they think they’re worth a fortune but once you remove the sentimental value often they’re not worth as much as people think.”
As well as the flea market, a thriving auction house operates behind sometimes-closed doors in the building. We chatted to David Raine, the father of Laurie (the market’s owner), who works in the auction house. His mum was in the same trade when he grew up in South Africa, and he used to buy items from her that needed repair, give them a sprucing-up, and sell them to fund holidays with his mates.
“In this economic climate,” he said, “people are looking to supplement their income by buying and selling. Even if someone gets a smaller amount of money for an item, it’s better than it going to a landfill. We do a lot of house clearances, including quite a lot of work for solicitors and estate agents, and private clients. We also have individual people coming in and selling collections. We auction every fortnight, auctioning general household things on Saturday and antiques on Sunday. We tend to get about 60 people in the room here and the auctions are open online to the whole world and local people too – we have got 10,000 registered bidders.”
David gave examples of glasses and ornaments being brought in that would usually fetch around £10 at a car boot sale, but to a discerning eye, could be worth thousands of pounds more due to a faintly-printed name of a top designer, or an x-ray (which the auction house can do on-site) showing the silver content is higher than expected.
The auction house often ships abroad, including to Japan, South Korea, South Africa and the USA. David said American clients were especially keen on antiques, with the US not being an old enough country to have as many of its own.
But the flea market’s own stall holders often pop in to buy from the auctions, and many buyers are looking to sell on what they find – something which David said was all part of the process. On his desk are a handful of toy cars, which the auction house often buys and sells by the crate, knowing that a well-informed buyer will snap them up in the hope of finding just one or two rare enough to sell on.
John Joseph, who runs a furniture stall inbetween the flea market’s two main halls, also helps to identify the glassware going to auction. He jokes that his shop should be called “Dinosaur Antiques,” as he restores things that are “often knackered” and saves them from being thrown away. He said: “I don’t think enough people realise [the market] is here and it amazes me that there isn’t one in every city.
“It’s changed a lot over the years. It was a bit ‘car boot-y’ to start with. Now there are more traders offering better stuff. There’s always a slight churn of stalls and stall holders, some moving or retiring.”
John’s stall has been a fixture of the market since not long after it opened. The bulk of John’s work – giving old furniture a fresh coat of paint – is highly eco-friendly – something which also appeals to Chris, owner of Dandy Gallery, who upcycles old industrial equipment and turns it into trendy furniture. He shows us an old foundry mold for a crane, which he says will be put on legs, topped with glass, and turned into a Ferrari-themed coffee table.
He said: “I’ve been pleased with all the first-time visitors we’ve had recently. The younger generation understand the ‘reuse, recycle and rejoice’ idea, that there’s a really green aspect to what we do. Antiques are 100% green. It’s not just giving old furniture a new life, it’s giving something industrial a complete new life. We’re selling a lab desk from an old school which had a rude carving still on it, and I was about to sand it off, but thought that actually that was part of the piece.”
We went to the flea market in December to try and buy Christmas presents for a maximum of £5 per person, and were impressed with the results. Walking around, you’ll find all sorts – across our two visits, we saw a near-life-sized sculpture of a leopard, ceramic models of Henry VIII and his six wives, a box full of football stickers from the middle of the 20th Century, a collection of military outfits which would do a great job in a cosplay or Halloween outfit, a Yamaha Clavinova piano, collectable Womble figurines and loads more.
Much of the coolest stuff – especially for anyone with an eye for all things retro – came from the toy stall run by Carmen, who’s deliberately arranged it to look like a toy shop from years gone by. She said: “We go from the 1900s up to the present. You get children who want to buy things with their pocket money, and kids are still interested in the older games and stuff.”
But, she also said, a good number of her customers were parents who looked for the toys they remembered from growing up. Lining the shelves of her shop are old-fashioned dolls, retro Star Wars board games, toys of Zippy from Rainbow, TARDIS and Cyberman figures from Doctor Who, and model cars in their original boxes.
“For me, it’s nostalgic,” she said. “I remember toy shops looking like this, and I don’t mind if people want to come and just look, not buy. Any time someone looks here, they’ll find something they didn’t see last time.”
You can find the flea market at Unit 2 Clydesmuir Road Industrial Estate, Tremorfa, Cardiff, CF24 2QS. It’s open 9am-5pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Bank Holiday Mondays. Mad Hatters Tea Room serves hot and cold food and drinks on site. The building is wheelchair accessible. Some stalls accept card, and all accept cash. Dogs are welcome. You can learn more on the website here.
People with these surnames in Wales could be heirs to fortunes
The Casablanca: One of Cardiff’s most iconic clubs has been brought to life and re-imagined
13 of the trendiest places to live in Wales
The 11 best things I ate in Cardiff in 2022
The woman made redundant who started a new business from her kitchen table and now plans to open a second shop