The famed market had to shut down in March, when the coronavirus hit the West in earnest and Los Angeles went into lockdown. Considering the market boasts 2,500 vendors and thousands of shoppers who make the trip to the Pasadena football stadium searching for vintage goods, antiques or just a bargain, it has had to stay closed for months as it falls under the definition of “mass gatherings” still prohibited throughout California.
So for the first time, The Rose Bowl Flea is going to try its luck with e-commerce. R.G. Canning, which has operated the market since its inception, struck an exclusive licensing deal with Free People, owned by Urban Outfitters.
“It makes sense that Free People struck up a partnership with Pasadena’s famous Rose Bowl Flea, which has been on hiatus since the start of COVID-19, to ensure that those unique items might still find their way into a forever home,” a spokeswoman for the retailer said.
As for R.G. Canning, it has been trying for months to find a way to reopen amid the pandemic. But as cases in California, L.A. in particular, started to spike again earlier this summer as counties and the state suddenly lifted many restrictions, it seems to be unlikely that the market will be back anytime in the immediate future.
“We have been in talks with the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Operating Committee concerning restrictions on a possible reopening plan of the event,” the company said earlier this summer. “The issue we have with the Rose Bowl Flea Market is the massive size of the event. We have not been able to complete a set of guidelines that meets everyone’s approval as of yet.”
Yet the market, until recently, was still selling tickets online and unwitting customers have taken to social media, where the Rose Bowl Flea Instagram has been silent since late March, to complain. As recently as Aug. 9, people claim to have purchased tickets online, driven to the Rose Bowl Stadium, only to find the market is not there. Now, it appears that tickets for the event are inactive and its calendar has been wiped clear, with no upcoming dates scheduled.
Free People will not be hosting the entirety of the usual market. The tie-up is starting with about 20 vendors, all focused on vintage fashion and apparel. They will launch new product on the site on the last Sunday of every month, through December. Homewares and furniture, a major draw of the market, will not be available.
But bringing on the Rose Bowl Flea will not only offer at least some of its vendors the opportunity to sell goods online, it will give Free People more of a stake in the vintage market, which it has been dabbling in more recently. It’s also the foundational inspiration of its overall aesthetic. The brand has a very small section of vintage goods on its website and earlier this year (pre-pandemic) held vintage pop-ups inside of some stores.
It could also benefit Free People by bringing new customers to the site. The coronavirus has taken a big financial toll on parent company Urban Outfitters, which lost $138 million in the first quarter, mainly due to store closures and high returns of goods bought online. Sales of Free People alone dropped considerably, to $107 million from $186 million.
And the Rose Bowl vendors participating will be able to sell online everyday, instead of only the second Sunday of every month.