Visiting the Flea Market at Udelnaya
26 July, 2017
Looking for something to do this weekend and maybe pick up a unique souvenir? Head north down the Metro and check out the flea market at Udelnaya. If you like garage sales, this will be right up your alley.
It’s easy to find, just outside Udelnaya station. Once you exit the metro, you’ll see a train station. You walk along it and either cross the tracks or if you came out the other side, head towards the gas station. You’ll find the market by a large fruit stall. It had been raining before we got there, which hadn’t deterred anyone from laying out their goods on the muddy ground. The first thing we saw was a man selling Soviet memorabilia, old watches, a dagger and ancient coins. Further in were vendors selling clothes, kitchen ware, books and vintage shoes. And one spot with two young guys selling fidget spinners, fresh from the box.
We made our way through the market then circled back and bought some giant 5 kopek coins from 1700-1800.
On the way out, I remarked, “Well that was interesting.”
“Yes, it was.”
“Do you have things like that where you’re from?”
“Oh definitely. But they’re not as poor as that like you can really see it.” We were surrounded by unkempt green space and apartment blocks. It reminded me a bit of my neighbourhood in Toronto. As we were talking, we stepped around a dog, lying on the sidewalk.
“Not quite like Nevsky Prospekt”.
“No. But it’s really interesting, leaving the tourist centre. This feels more like normal life.”
According to people living in the neighbourhood since the 1950s, Udelnaya market, as it’s known today began in 1995. Before then, it was a congregation of 15 to 20 people who gathered to sell odds and ends from home, as one man commented ‘whatever my wife wants to throw away, I sell here.’ It wasn’t legal, however, which resulted in more than a few runs ins with the local authorities. People were arrested, fined, had their goods and money confiscated.
Troubled by the situation, 72 vendors took it upon themselves to establish legal status of their market. This was informally led by a woman named Luba, who met local authorities, politicians and Parliament to vet for herself and her fellow vendors. They succeeded in establishing the market as a kind of ‘seniors club’. Though trade was still illegal. The market was kept running through agreements with the administration to handle the police. The market was integral to the community and was mostly practical in its application. People were more inclined to fix things than buy them new, so tools were a popular commodity, as well as cloths and anything that was in short supply. The appeal of selling on the flea market was not just to receive extra cash but to know that your belongings could be used again or repurposed rather than thrown out.
Other than cloths in tools, there are also all kinds of random knick-knacks that’ll make for some enthralling scavenging. The market is open from 11 am to 7 pm. It’s definitely worth having a look. I’ll probably go again.