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Weird, strange and cool: Thieves Market gives an edge to secondhand shopping

The monthly flea market offers a variety of unique treasures from various vendors


A group of vendors for Thieves Market pose for a picture outside Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona, in Fall of 2016.

Whether looking for unique Halloween decorations, handmade jewelry or the removed head of a Cabbage Patch Kid, students can count on the “perfectly uncivilized” Thieves Market Vintage Flea for an assortment of uncommon goods.

The items found at the Thieves Market are far different from items found at the average flea market, and  owner and operator Mickey Meulenbeek said she keeps it that way intentionally. She said the market screens their vendors with an online application which requires pictures of items for sale to ensure they fit a "certain vibe." 

“It’s really about the weird and strange and cool,” she said. “Nothing is curated. Nothing is cleaned up … It’s pure flea market stuff.”

Meulenbeek said the unique items are reflected in the diversity of shoppers the market attracts. 

The market is held on the first Saturday of every month from October to April, excluding January, in the parking lot of Big Surf while the water park is closed for the winter months. The first show of this season is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Run by Meulenbeek, her three children and some friends, the Thieves Market is a family business to the core. 

A local business owner herself, Meulenbeek said she and other Cave Creek business owners started the Thieves Market about 10 years ago in an attempt to attract shoppers to the area when the economy started to fall.

Located just a few miles from the ASU Tempe campus, Meulenbeek said their current location is more  accessible than the original location in Cave Creek, and that the recent spike in the popularity of vintage clothing and decor has drawn more college students to the market.

"I think this is a really perfect thing whether you're decorating your dorm or your first apartment ... You'll find those pieces that you can put in there that kind of just explain who you are," Meulenbeek said. 

The Thieves Market charges a $5 entrance fee which includes access to all vendors as well as the food court.

Cooper Meulenbeek, Mickey Meulenbeek's son and a senior studying environmental design at ASU, said he is present at every market helping the vendors set up, collecting money at the entrance and carrying buyer's purchases to their cars — the “grunt work" as he called it.

He said he’s been working at the market since it started when he was 12 years old, and the experience has taught him important monetary and interpersonal skills.

Cooper Meulenbeek said his environmental design major complements his work at the flea market.

“I think it definitely helps give me a new perspective on how I get things done,” he said.

Mickey Meulenbeek said she continues the Thieves Market not just for the monetary gain, but for the relationships she creates and maintains. 

"Hanging out with my kids on a regular basis all day and working with them is priceless," she said. "And we have a lot of regulars that come back that we've met over the years that have really become good friends of ours."

Scott Twitchell, a vendor at the Thieves Market from the beginning, said the market caters to a wide range of shoppers from the "70-year-olds who have been doing it for years to the young people who are now figuring out that you can buy way better quality stuff at these vintage markets."

He said that he will sometimes sell at more than 30 markets a week and that the Thieves Market is among the most welcoming of the markets because the Meulenbeek family does a great job of looking out for their vendors and making him feel at home.

"You feel like you're a part of the family there," he said.

 Reach the reporter at or follow @jsphprzz on Twitter.

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