I am an avid flea market and antique show shopper. My parents bought and sold antiques as a hobby when I was growing up so I have been attending yard sales, flea markets, antique shows and auctions pretty much my whole life. Over the years, I have become both a buyer and collector.
I want to share with you what I have learned over my many years of collecting. In this article, I will let you in on the tips and tricks that you need to know to have a successful buying experience at any antique or flea market venue.
Know Before You Go
Have an idea of the items that you will be looking for or places or walls that you want to fill. While I always leave room for on-the-spot inspiration, I keep a running list on the notepad app on my phone of items that I might want to look for at a show. These might be inspired by a pin on Pinterest or a photo spread in a magazine. For example, I saw this pin on Pinterest, and decided that I wanted to be on the look-out for large silk scarves to frame.
After months of looking, I finally found three coordinating scarves to frame. Had I not made a note in my phone when I came across this pin, I might have completely forgotten about the scarves. When I have them framed and hung, I will share a picture of how fabulous they look.
Having at least an idea of what you might be looking for, will help you to be more strategic about your shopping and spending particularly at a large show. It will help you keep your eye out for the perfect item to fill that empty space.
If you are looking for furniture or art, it is a good idea to measure ahead of time. Again, I use the notepad app on my phone to record room dimensions or blank wall space measurements. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect piece only to discover it is 3 inches too large to fit in your space (or through your door). Most vendors do not take returns so make sure you know the measurements of the space that you want to fill.
Believe it or not, there are still vendors that do not take credit cards. I ran into this the other day. I had brought some cash but found a large purchase at a great price that I could not pass up. The vendor only took cash or check (I didn’t know anyone took checks anymore). Anyway, I had to use the cash machine at the show which only allowed me to get $200 at a time and charged me $4.00 to use the machine…highway robbery! I learned a valuable lesson…bring as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying.
In fact, I typically go to the bank ahead of the show and get $5s, $10s, and $20s. I have three different labeled envelopes, one for each denomination. This allows me to easily get the money out to pay a vendor. I also make sure that I am wearing a crossbody bag when I go. Not only is your money safer when it is closer to you, a cross body is less cumbersome in smaller booths.
I personally am of the philosophy that the early bird gets the worm. I try to get to the show when it opens. In fact, the monthly show in my town offers an early buyer ticket for just a little bit more. I love it. It is less crowded so you can talk to the vendors easily and ask questions plus the selection is great.
Have a Plan
When I go early, I do a quick walk through the show to get a feel for the vendors and the lay of the land. Then, I go back around and spend more time in the booths that I am most interested in and make my purchases. This is another argument for going to the preview or early in the day. There are less people and it is easier to look (without fearing someone might beat you to that item your looking for) For me, there is nothing more disappointing than making an early purchase then finding something you like even better just a few booths away. I also find it helpful at larger shows to make notes of things that I liked or booths that I want to go back and visit.
BYOB – Bring your Own Bag
This is one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned. I bring rolled up reusable shopping bags to carry my purchases around with me since at times, it is too inconvenient to go to the car. After years of trying different bags, these are my favorite. Rolling carts are also handy particularly for outdoor shows.
Remember antiquing can often be dirty, dusty work so dress down. Even when the shows are indoor, they are rarely well heated or air conditioned. Wear something that is cool and easy to move in. You don’t have to dress like the fashionista that you are. Wear shoes that are comfortable and able to get dirty particularly if this is an outdoor show. Again, crossbody bags are key here. They are less likely to break items in a small booth and they are a safer way to store your valuables in a crowded venue.
Bring Snacks and Stay Hydrated
I always shop with a diet coke and/or a bottle of water and a couple of snacks. Think something easy to eat, like a granola bar or a bag of nuts. Food and drink options at shows are often limited and have long lines. You are there to shop…not to eat and nothing ruins a shopping buzz more than being “hangry”.
Be Nice-But Don’t be Afraid to Haggle
Vendors expect a little haggling. In fact, they often build a little wiggle room into their prices. Have the ideal price you would like to pay in your head and offer a bit lower. Be nice and respectful to the vendor. They are more willing to negotiate if you are not rude. Most of all know when to stop. If the vendor has negotiated in good faith and you reach a price you can live with, then stop. There is a fine line between getting a good price and being a cheapskate.
If you Find Something You Love, Snag It
To me, the joy of shopping at flea markets is to fill my house with unique items that I love. Most of the time, the items that you find at flea markets are one-of-a-kind so be careful walking away from an item that you love. Chances are, someone else may love it just as much.
I hope you enjoy your adventure in shopping flea markets as much as I do. For a complete list of flea markets by state check out this link.
Have a favorite flea market find? Share it in the comments below.