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Independent owners still thrive at Denio’s swap meet

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Online auctions have become a big part of the internet revolution and small businesses. Bidding on low cost products can be a win-win for both buyers and sellers. Like many things in cyberspace, the online world replicates models of the traditional world, as online auctions have been patterned after live auctions. Denio’s Farmers Market and Swap Meet in Roseville, continues to be the biggest attraction in that classic town on weekends. People actually come from all over the state to sell their products there.

It’s the largest flea market in Northern California, covering 80 acres, showcasing as many as 1600 vendors on any given weekend throughout the year. Since I’m intrigued by the various ways independent businesses can succeed, especially during a recession, I conducted a series of video interviews for SacTV.com with Eric Denio, grandson of Jim and Marilee, who founded the family business in 1947.

Eric, who is very friendly and knowledgeable, shared the history of Denio’s over the past 65 years. Born in 1972, he learned the business from his father Ken and other family members, including his grandparents. The business started as a market for local farmers selling produce and gradually evolved into a live auction and giant garage sale. Jim Denio became a local celebrity by being featured in TV commercials wearing his cowboy hat, inviting people to come out to the swap meet for the best bargains in the region. By the 1960s it had blossomed into a huge operation. Jim passed away in 2000, but the family maintains the business today with 120 employees. 

Denio’s makes its money by charging for vendor space on their vast property located on Vineyard Road in Roseville. The flea market also charges for parking on Saturday and Sunday, but on Fridays parking is free and vendors only have to pay $10 for a space. I visited Eric last Friday, October 12 under overcast skies. But Denio’s stays open rain or shine and still pulls a crowd of bargain hunters. I was amazed at some of the things you could find in great condition under $100, such as stereos, computers, furniture and almost every item imaginable. For collectors of videos, music, books, clothes and vintage gear, Denio’s is clearly a wonderland that actually blows away online auctions and classified ad websites if you really want great deals. 

At the same time, Eric says Denio’s encourages vendors to promote themselves online. The flea market has brought back its traditional live auctioneering, which has been a main attraction for decades. Eric says there are people who come just to hear auctioneers perform their art. The purpose of the auctioneer is to keep moving prices up among bidders while preserving a good deal for the buyer. But many of the vendors simply sell their items without those theatrics. It’s a way for businesses to unload excess inventory or for entrepreneurs to showcase their products. It even attracts inventors who introduce new inventions. In this sense, Denio’s is like a time machine that encompasses past, present and future. 

Denio’s, more than a big thrift store, provides local entertainment, including bands. It’s also an excellent place to enjoy social gathering, on top of being a haven for collectors and people looking for low cost items to flip online. So out of all the places in the region where you could possibly base a low-cost business and make a profit, Denio’s seems like an efficient, fun and friendly place to make it happen. What’s amazing is that there aren’t that many places like it in California, a state rich in agriculture with a lot of independent-minded people. For  other countries around of the world, Eric points out, such open air markets are normal.

Markets like Denio’s seem like the answer to a bad economy on many levels where everyone wins. While many corporations complain about the business climate and are packing up and leaving the state, Denio’s has outlasted most of them as a family business. By bringing together fresh produce from local farmers, the flea market provides the solution to growing concerns about eating healthy food instead of packaged and chemically-based food at regular supermarkets. So if you find yourself trapped in suburbia and all the choices seem too corporate, too expensive, too genetically modified or too bland, consider the alternative. Denio’s is one big shining example of how the spirit of independent thinking is alive and well and shows no sign of going away. 

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