Why did you start the flea market?
I was so tired of malls, of looking at the same shops over and over again. I really can’t stand them anymore. We have flea markets in Europe, so I thought it would make people feel at home while also getting them outside into the fresh air. I hate being indoors, but everyone in Dubai is either in the office, in the car, or at home.
How popular are they here?
When I started the flea markets as a hobby, back in April 2008, my friends all thought I was mad. They said, ‘This is Dubai, nobody here wants other people’s used stuff!’ But I was determined to at least try it. I was really worried the first time – worried that no one would come. But they did, and lots of them. We had 80 stands and 1,500 visitors the first time. Now it’s a full-time job for me and at the last outdoor flea market in May, we had 250 stands and around 5,000 visitors.
Is it true you had to hire a security company?
At the indoor market, yes. That was a different scenario, though. The first indoor flea market in June was so busy I was worried that someone would get hurt. People were queuing from 6am. When my friend, who was helping me by selling tickets, opened the door, she got pushed to the side and jammed against the wall. After that, I told myself either I hire a professional security company to control the crowd or I cancel indoor markets entirely.
Why were there so many people? Do you think the recession is making Dubai more bargain-conscious?
Basically, yes. And the fact that so many families were leaving the country. I had people calling me and emailing me, all with the same story: ‘We have to leave, I’ve lost my job.’ They needed a platform to sell their stuff, which is why I kept the markets running indoors during the summer, and twice a month. So there were lots of bargains to be had.
Who are your customers?
Well, the Filipinos usually arrive early – they are the serious buyers. Then the Europeans start arriving around 9am – they come for the social aspect and because they’re used to flea markets back home. Then Arabic families, too – they also like to look for a bargain and enjoy the unusual shopping atmosphere. We have people coming to Dubai from all over the UAE – from as far afield as Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah…
So in what way is it a family activity?
Apart from being in one of Dubai’s best parks you mean? We have a lot of stalls selling kids’ products – arts, crafts, toys, hand-made kids’ clothing. In fact, the baby products sell really well. I remember one woman who was complaining about the rent I charge for a stall [Dhs230]. She came with all her kids’ stuff – pushchairs, bikes, toys etc. After two hours she turned to me and said, ‘Thanks Melanie, I’m leaving, I’ve sold everything.’ She’d made her money. But we also have face painting, a clown, people dressed up in kids’ characters.
What’s next for the flea market?
I’d like to set up in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi – I think there really is a demand for it in those areas. I’d also like to expand into Muscat and maybe Qatar. But next on the list is a luxury flea market. I had lots of ‘complaints’ – in a positive way – that people were struggling to sell their Luis Vuitton handbags and designer clothes, so this month I’m starting a new market up in Sharjah, at Al Qasba, which is, by the way, an amazing location. This market is aimed at a totally different target group. Everything will be higher quality and more expensive, but there will still be bargains to be had. The traditional flea market takes place in Dubai’s Safa Park on the first Saturday of every month, with the next one on October 3, 8am-3pm, Dhs3 entry fee to Safa Park. The ‘luxury’ flea market at Al Qasba kicks off on October 10 and will be a regular event held on the second Saturday of each month.
For more information visit www.dubai-fleamarket.com or contact Melanie on 050 296 9680 or Melanie.email@example.com.