LAKELAND – What started out as a way to eliminate the overabundance of furniture she’d been painting has, over the years, turned into a much-loved and anticipated five times a year event attended by buyers from around the country.

The Fancy Flea, a vintage marketplace, was created 11 years ago by owner and promoter Lori Powell as a downtown Lakeland event with only 12 vendors.

“I started the Fancy Flea because I have always loved flea markets,” Powell said. “Plus, I had painted and painted (furniture) and didn’t have much storage.”

That first event back in 2009 set the tone for today’s Fancy Fleas that are held in Lakeland, Plant City, Bartow and Brooksville. The next Fancy Flea is Friday and Saturday, July 17-18, at the RP Funding Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.

Powell said that everything possible has been done in order to hold a safe event in regard to COVID-19.

She has cut the number of booths nearly in half – from approximately 150 to 80 with more than enough distance in between each. The aisles are 12, 16 and 20 foot so that shoppers may have a safe shopping experience.

Vendors and shoppers will have their temperatures taken by walking through a scanner and everyone is required to wear a mask (or shield). Hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the show.

“People are ready to get out of their houses. They want new things for their homes. They are ready for some normalcy,” Powell said. “And, although people may be critical of me having this event, I promise that we’ve done everything to make it safe, sanitized and fun.”

When Powell started The Fancy Flea, she was the sales director at what was then the Lakeland Center (now the RP Funding Center). After a while, the event became so successful, she resigned to work the Flea full time.

Thousands attend The Fancy Flea every year and come from all over the country.

“The quality of shoppers is high,” said the Lakeland resident. “On Fridays, shop owners from all over the southeast come to shop. We have a very good following.”

After a few years in downtown Lakeland, Powell realized it was time to expand to a larger venue. Much to the disappointment of local residents, she took The Fancy Flea to her hometown of Plant City. But, ultimately, returned to Lakeland for a smaller summer show that has now grown again and is held at the RP Funding Center.

Powell said that she plans shows and decides on a theme for each one at least a year out. She and her year-round staff of about 12 work hard to make sure everything is organized, and advertising is complete.

“I used to be the only game in town but now there’s a lot of other shows in this area,” she explained. “So, it’s important to have my dates set so everyone can get them on their calendars.”

This weekend, admission is $6 and parking is free. Military members, veterans and retirees are free.

“It’s always a good time,” Powell said. “So many of our shoppers stay all day. They come, dress up, eat, shop and just enjoy themselves.”

And, although Powell stays busy with the five shows, she is planning the next phase of The Fancy Flea. In the next two years, she plans to turn two family homes on ten acres in the Tampa area into a Fancy Flea Air B&B and The Fancy Flea Headquarters.

“We will have cooking and gardening demonstrations (to be shown on her video blogs or attended in person) and select shopping weekends,” she said.

Recipes like her chicken pot pie and black-eyed peas will be on the menu. “It’s just another way to enhance The Fancy Flea brand.”

Next on the calendar is the Plant City show, “Fancy Flea in the Fields,” on Nov. 6-7. On Dec. 5, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Market” will be held in Bartow, followed by Brooksville in February and either Plant City or Bradenton in April.

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“It’s just so rewarding to see what started with only 12 vendors grow into something that people come to from all over the country,” she said.