Located in central Tempe in the Big Surf parking lot, Thieves Flea Market has become a one stop shop for everything from eclectic home decor to niche vintage clothes. Over the past seven years it’s been in Tempe, it has gained mass popularity among people in the East Valley. But before its departure from the Big Surf parking lot, it hosted its last flea market of the season on April 2.
“Some of the other vintage markets have their very specific niche with the people that come to their market. We’ve kinda just opened it up to everybody, ”said Mickey Meulenbeek, founder of Thieves Flea Market.
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Thieves returned from its COVID hiatus in October and has had a busy season of vending ever since.
“I think the thing that was most interesting was how much people missed it. How busy we were when COVID finally let up a little bit, that was really interesting to me and really made me feel good that we were so missed, ”Meulenbeek said.
Before Thieves cultivated the community that it has today, it was a three-day market in Cave Creek, Arizona called “The Big Heap.” Meulenbeek recalled how it all got started.
“We were trying desperately to get people up to that town and we decided to start a flea market, me and two friends of mine. We saw this whole vintage thing starting to happen in the world and people decorating with junk, ”Meulenbeek said.
Meulenbeek saw about five years of success with The Big Heap, but wanted to expand the market to more people in the Valley.
“It was popular; everybody in town came every month and the people in the surrounding areas, but we could not get people from the East Valley, ”Meulenbeek said.
And now, going on for almost a decade after moving the market to Tempe, Thieves has become one of the most popular markets in the area.
“We like the tattooed crowd. We like the car guys. We like the LGBTQ’s, we take everybody. And dogs, ”Meulenbeek said.
Local vintage clothing vendors have used the market as a way to grow their brands.
“My booth usually brings in typically 16- to 30-year-olds with the occasional sassy Grandma,” said Avery Greey who has been selling 2000s (“Y2K”) clothes at Thieves for the entirety of the 2021-2022 season.
Kendal Baker, owner of Earth Wind and Vintage, an upcycled clothing and vintage curated pieces brand, has been another recurring vendor with Thieves.
“I believe Earth Wind and Vintage grew as much as it did because of this market,” Baker said.I now have regulars stop in each month and it warms my heart to this day. Thieves has brought me so many memories: from getting coffee at one of the food trucks early in the morning with my mom, to meeting and sharing laughs with each and everyone of my customers, to exchanging numbers with some of the neighboring vendors so we can keep in touch and continue to support one another. It is an unforgettable flea market. ”
While this marks the end of Thieves’ era at Big Surf, it does not mark the end of Thieves, as it plans on relocating soon to an area that is still central to the East Valley.
“I can not even tell you how supportive our community has been, and how much we appreciate that and how grateful we are to everyone. It’s just been amazing, ”Meulenbeek said.