Published May 25, 2010
Kolaportið, Reykjavík’s one and only flea market, is a chaotic writhing mass. Every species occupies a niche in this harbourside warehouse: vendors of all stripes, and buyers to match. Some are shedding old things while others are gathering them back up. It’s the perfect venue to play cultural ecologist, studying how everyone does their part to make the flea market work.
Perhaps 40 or so vendors occupy Kolaportið on any given weekend. Among the used goods sellers, there are three major classes. Some regular sellers are professionals. They buy from the real raw second-hand places like Góði Hirðirinn and the Red Cross store, then mark up their wares for sale every weekend.
Other vendors, like Ásta Ólafsdóttir, are at Kolaportið just for a day or a weekend. “I’m cleaning out my storage room,” Ásta explained. She’s making enough from selling, she said, to make the stall rental worthwhile for the weekend. It’s a good way to wring a few last Króna from your old items on their way out.
And then there are the vendors whose selection of wares follows no rhyme or reason. “Some people sell just junk. Really old stuff,” said Ásta.
Ingibjörg Magnúsdottir began selling like Ásta did—cleaning out her closet. But the project rapidly snowballed into a hobby. Soon Ingibjörg began attracting repeat customers. “They collect books. They collect knives, razors, bottle openers.” Now she picks out items and saves them for her regulars.
The market attracts anyone who’s hunting for a bargain. Kolaportið was even featured in the internationally acclaimed Icelandic film 101 Reykjavík—the characters got a deal on a tacky artificial Christmas tree. Jóna Ásgrimsdóttir, part-owner of Kolaportið, says customers range from “poor people to the bishop. People like you and me, and famous people. Mainly Icelandic.”
The sections of the market draw different customers. Younger people gravitate to the used clothing, Jóna explained, but the grocery section of the market is frequented by older people, perhaps because younger generations aren’t very familiar with some of the traditional Icelandic products.
Þorsteinn Hallsson, a young man selling potatoes, had experienced the same phenomenon. “Younger people eat rice,” he laughed, suggesting that perhaps his customers were mainly older because younger people don’t have as much patience for boiling potatoes.
Kolaportið, which turns 21 this year, is a refreshing contrast to those vintage shops along the main drag. You know you’re in the wrong place if they use the word “vintage” to describe their merchandise in the first place. Their wares represent only a select sliver of the broader world of used goods, so for those of us who get a thrill from pawing through mounds of used things in search of The Find, they’re a little boring. There’s no hunt, and the price mark-up reflects that. Despite their beautiful collections, shopping at these places feels like cheating.
Meanwhile Kolaportið lays the whole kit n’ caboodle in your lap whether you like it or not. It’s like walking through a kaleidoscope of junk.
In some ways, however, Kolaportið is a little tamer than a classic flea market. Icelanders don’t really bargain, and there’s even a restaurant with tables so shoppers can rest their feet. Guðmundur Björn Sveinsson, one of the many sellers of dried Icelandic fish, said Kolaportið is straight-laced and well-organised. “I’ve seen flea markets here and there, but nothing like this. I mean, I would call this a market, a marketplace,” he said. “It’s a little step higher.”
Kolaportið is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 to 17:00.
Kolaportið: A Sampling
Sweater Store: Long underwear, plastic necklaces, and traditional Icelandic patterned sweaters, hats, bibs, baby clothes, dog clothes.
Victoria’s Secret Store: Zebra print bra, peace sign hoodie, Tender Whisper body lotion, candles that look like rocks, Talking Brick Game portable electronic game, Fashion Forms shoulder pads.
Joe’s Garage Sell & Buy: Strumparnir (Smurfs) 4 DVD, Algjör Sveppi og leitin að villa DVD (a kid’s adventure), Night At The Opera by Queen on vinyl, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em by MC Hammer on CD.
Candy Shop: Brjóstsykur hard candies, Sport Lakkrís, coconut-covered chocolate cylinders, giant fruit gummies.
Fish Market: Red seaweed, dried haddock, rotten shark, smoked halibut, cured salmon, fish balls, horse meat sausage, smoked whale meat, hanged lumpfish and cod.
The Junk Part Of Kolaportið: Mushroom statuette, slotted spoon, cassette tape of “Aerobic Dancing,” Tarzan comics (in Icelandic), book of sex positions with full-colour photographs, 6 pairs mega-platform pumps, tin of marbles, cardboard box full of romance novels, baby Snugli.