Hampton Roads is like a yard sale: it’s sprawling, disorganized and random, but if you look hard enough, you can usually find some hidden treasures that fit the limited budget of a college student.
A good number of Old Dominion University students are not originally from here, and many natives, like myself, have never fully explored or appreciated the many charms of Hampton Roads. With that in mind, I’ve set out to experience as many hidden treasures as I can, and hope to discover the best of what our region has to offer.
So what do bulletproof vests, children’s toys, antique furniture, vinyl records, tie-dyed tapestries and funnel-cakes all have in common? They’re all for sale at Ingram’s Flea Market of Norfolk.
Ingram’s Flea Market is a truly unique shopping experience. Featuring a combination of permanent, indoor shops and outdoor tables with new vendors every day, the only way to know what you’ll find is to rummage through everything.
Every now and then, I wake up with the urge to find something or go somewhere weird. Saturday was one of those days. So I loaded the family into the car, and we set out for Ingram’s.
The parking lot was packed when we arrived, and cars were waiting for spots all over the place. Luckily, someone began to pull out right in front of us as we went down the first row, and as we snagged the spot, we felt no remorse for the cars that had circled the entire lot several times already.
Before we even got out of the car, our senses were overpowered with the smells of fried food and the sounds of people haggling. Children ran unchecked among the booths, begging their parents for money. Vendors shouted prices as people walked by.
Hip-hop, soul, salsa and every form of music imaginable mingled together into an almost melodious white noise underscoring the chaos of the market. Two food trucks sold hot dogs, French fries, ice cream and funnel cakes to customers and vendors tired from negotiating prices.
Since its outdoors, people aren’t shy about bringing their pets. Dogs sniff around for fallen French fries as they are dragged around the tables. I also saw a man with a snake on his shoulders, and a ferret on a leash drinking out of a teacup.
The vendor tables were disorganized and varied. Some sold clothing and housewares while others specialized in toys, or tools. An old man snoozed in a chair behind a table that seemed like someone had taken all the useless, mismatched and unknown pieces that collect in the corners of garages and sheds, and piled it all on his table.
Every third table seemed to have a collection of knives that drew teenage boys like iron shavings to a magnet. Cheap folding pocket knives, military issue ka-bars and bayonets, ornate pieces of crap with eagles and wolves painted on the handles and everything in between could be found.
Other weapons and military surplus junk were in abundance as well. Swords, axes, bulletproof vests and even a riot shield (or more likely just a piece of Plexiglas with “police” stamped on it) were scattered throughout the flea market.
One booth even had a homemade morning star, which consisted of a solid metal ball attached by a heavy chain to what may have begun its life as a trailer hitch wrapped in electrical tape. I could just picture the world’s meanest, ugliest, dirtiest Hell’s Angels reject using it to shatter someone’s skull in an alley behind a bar. I’m sure some 11 year-old probably thought it was cool, and bought it.
To contrast the implicit violence of the place, a wizened old Asian man sold bonsai trees, prisms with images inside and small fountains from his table. Others, including two of the permanent stores, sell *ahem* “functional glass art,” as well as tapestries, hemp clothing, incense and other hippie/Rasta gear. The Space Station has the more unique selections, but the employees of AC’s House of Glass and Scent Shop have been known to haggle in the past.
Stereo equipment was easy to find, both for vehicles and for entertainment centers. CD’s were fairly common, although I don’t know who buys them anymore. DVD’s were generally overpriced, with vendors who have apparently never heard of streaming charging on average $5 apiece.
I was disappointed with the selection of vinyl this time around. All I could find was disco and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. The last time I was there, whole tables were devoted to albums. I had picked up a copy of Wish You Were Here in good condition, while a friend of mine bought Abbey Road. This time around, I couldn’t even find a copy of Frampton Comes Alive.
I didn’t find anything quite interesting enough to buy this time, although my wife did briefly consider one of the bonsai trees and an antique trunk. But the people-watching alone was worth the trip. It’s tough to find a more diversified cross-section of the Norfolk population than at Ingram’s Flea Market. Come for the deals and the unique items, but stay for the spectacle.