I decided to share some basic flea market tips with my readers as I realize there are things I find easy, or, take for granted that for others remain a mystery. People often tell me they do not understand how flea markets work, where to find them, how to prepare, how to bargain and how to know what they are getting. Of course, many of these answers are subjective to an individual's expectations and what is offered on a given day, but, I will plan to address some of the major topics below.
What is a Flea Market?
|Photo of Farm Chicks Flea courtesy of suebees-karensue.blogspot.com|
Truthfully, flea markets take many forms. From the weekly local flea to the monthly regional, to the annual state flea, there are many to choose from. I am lucky enough to live an hour's drive to Brimfield and, although I do not need to attend it each of the three times a year it is open, I do find it a fun occasional excursion especially when looking for something specific, like architectural pieces for my historic home. Personally, I am not a fan of the permanent "Flea Markets" you see in this area, usually in former mill buildings and usually selling the same junky stuff and new icky stuff week after week. I do not consider those as Flea Markets. To me, a Flea Market is something you cannot attend any old day; only some days, or, some times of the year, or, once a year. This adds to the mystique! Living in New England, my local Flea Market season is from about April through October. My friend who owns Pumpkintruck likes to torture me with tales of attending outdoor Flea Markets all winter in sunny California (Grr!). A Flea is usually a gathering of different sellers, all set up in their own unique ways. Some fleas charge admission and sellers merchandise things in beautifully enticing arrangements with actual price tags. Others have a mixture of new and old, clean and filthy and you never know what you are going to find.
|Booth at Brimfield, July 2008, specializing in Chocolate Molds.|
How To Approach the Day
1. Arrive early. Everyone who is anyone arrives early and if you arrive late you will find most of the good stuff gone and half the dealers packing up their stuff by 9:00. Just set that alarm, pre-set the coffee machine the night before and get the hell out of bed! Arriving early can also be practical for other reasons; summer fleas typically start off nice and cool and quickly turn hot and oppressing by 10:00 am.
2. Don't look at what other people have already purchased. You'll make yourself crazy.
3. Dress practically and comfortably. This means practical shoes (PLEASE no heels ladies!) and even in the summer I often opt for boots as opposed to sandals otherwise I come home with filthy dusty feet. Layers make sense. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses are all practical in the summer.
4. Come prepared. I usually have one or two fabric totes in my own bag when I start. Dealers may or may not have bags and bringing your own just makes things go faster and more smoothly. BRING CHANGE. You would think dealers would come with change but many do not. Having exact or close to exact change makes transactions go much more smoothly. Dealers can get cranky when you whip out a $20 bill to pay for a $1.00 item, and, it makes it doubly awkward when you whip out a $20 to pay for an item you just bargained someone down to $4 from $7 on.
6. Remember to eat and pee. As with any event that traps people in a temporary space for several hours, food is usually limited in its offering and high in its price. Sometimes you can get great local fare for a song at seasonal events, but, find out first what your options are. If in doubt, pack a lunch and water with you. And if your only toilet will be a porta-potty at the end of a 20 minute line, you may want to skip that extra large coffee on the drive over!
Money is an important consideration when you plan to attend a flea which is why I am giving it its own section here.
1. Bring Change. We already covered this in the section above. This advice applies to dealers as well but since you cannot control them you need to take the initiative.
2. Don't Flash Your Wad. Bad for bargaining and all around in poor taste. Plus, can be unsafe. I usually wear pants or shorts with secure pockets and keep a selection of my smaller bills, coins and one twenty in there. This allows me to easily pull a small amount of money out of my pocket for transactions. Keeps it quick and discreet. If I purchase a big ticket item, I will go into my bag and get my wallet for the big bills. I then put the change back into the pocket. While we are talking about bags, I always use a backpack type bag for the flea. Frees my hands and keeps it pick-pocket free...just sayin'....
3. Have a Budget. Personally, I have a bad habit of finding, finding, finding stuff at the flea. Unfortunately, I do not have endless pockets to finance this, so I find that deciding my budget for the day in advance helps me stay focused. Sometimes you find THE PERFECT ITEM, like a Jacobsen Egg Chair for $50 and you only have $32 left. In that case, it is OK to hit the ATM, or, break into that "In case of Egg Chair break open" envelope at the bottom of your bag. In other cases though, try to budget, trust me.
4. Bring cash. This is so fundamental it seems to go without saying but please keep in mind that unless you are buying a cute set of throw pillows made from pink chenille and old feed sacks at the Farm Chicks flea, your sellers are likely cash-only. If you want to shop, you gotta play by their rules.
One of the most common questions I am asked when people find out or know that I am a dealer is "How much is this (insert ANYTHING here) worth? My answer, which drives people crazy, is, an item is worth what someone will pay for it. It is true, however, that IS how much something is worth. On-line dealers often use past sales on eBay when trying to gauge how much to value something for resale. They look at items that sold, and what they sold for. They do NOT look at what someone is asking for something. Because Etsy items do not show the sale price once sold, I frequently have other sellers ask me what a sold item sold for. I am always happy to help, and have asked the question myself in the past.
If you are buying for resale, know your market. For instance, I took a photo of this nice old crock at the flea last weekend (above). I do not specialize in this type of item and have no idea if it it worth $10 or $100. Because of this, I stay away. It is not in my own area of knowledge and having knowledge is a good idea when you hit the flea for resale. Knowledge, discretion and focus are your friends.
|Photo courtesy the Complete Cookie Jar Book, by Mike Schneider.|
|Always take time to check condition, take measurements and confirm your interest.|
|I looked at this pair of twin 1940's chenille bedspreads twice. I know this dealer and could probably have had the pair for $5. Although I like challenges of cleaning, I was not certain I could reduce, never mind remove these stains, so, I passed.|
How To Bargain
Of all the things people tell me they are intimidated about at the flea, bargaining is number one. Do you always bargain? Sometimes? When you do how do you do it? I will attempt to answer some of these questions below.
1. Be respectful to the dealers. I know flea market dealers can be a tough lot. They have tattoos, they drink and smoke cigarettes, cigars and pot while selling, some will not get out of their cars, they swear, some lie, some talk your ears off, some ignore you. At times, it can be tough to be nice to them. BUT, keep in mind that this is often their livelihood, they found the stuff, packed their van the evening before, drove an hour, tried to sleep in the vehicle for a couple of hours before setting up at 4:00 am and now you are dickering with them for a $1? Wouldn't you be drinking, smoking and cranky too?
2. Chit chat. You don't want to talk a dealer's ear off if they are trying to sell, but, I find that a little friendly banter, and, light hearted flirting in jest can go a long way with getting a good price. It is sort of an off-shoot of the above advice. Be friendly. Last week I was looking through a dealer's boxes and noticed he had several display cases of jewelry and coins that I figured he actually wanted on the table in front of him. As I found them, I handed them to him and he was grateful as he'd become very busy while still unpacking. When I asked him for a price on two books he said "$5 since I'd helped," he wanted to give me a good price. See, be nice.
|One of the two books purchased for $5 at the booth mentioned above? Just this First Printing 1962 edition in the slipcase of Ted Saucier's Bottom's Up, that's all...|
|Want that pennant for a song? Act indifferent.|
"How much is this hat?
"Great, thanks. And how much is that scarf over there?"
"Would you consider $10 for the two?"
That type of simple exchange usually will get you somewhere. That is pretty typical bartering 101 for the Flea.
|These great garden tools were all together in a bucket. Instead of asking one by one, I held them all up in my hand and asked for a price: $3 for all. Deal!|
|I passed by this giant tin the first time without even asking the price. When I passed by again later, I stopped to take this photo and she told me it was $5. Five dollars? Dang, I took it home with me.|
|Hollywood card rack in original box. Super fun to put in my Etsy shop when then weather cools. This was one item in that $15 pile I showed above.|
|Awesome mid-century Manhattan Skyline cufflinks. Also in the $15 pile.|
One recent post from a colleague that got my own butt in gear to finally finish this one, was this recent post on "Six Flea Markets Worth Visiting" from Sammy Davis Vintage. She not only gives great info on the six, but, encourages readers to add details on others making it chock full of great spots all across the country!
Country Living Magazine created this useful guide to Antique Shows which actually includes mostly Flea Markets with dates and links and photos galore...
A couple years old so check the links but a good summary at Budget Travel.
Another article from a couple of years back but lots of anecdotal info at CNN America's Best Flea Markets.
United States too limited for you? Here is a link to the World's Best from The Travel Channel.
A great composite site. Check all links to ensure they are up to date but a great starting point from anywhere in the US!
|My hubby at Brimfield. He never reads this blog so will have no idea I've used this less than flattering photo of him.... (he's way hotter than he looks here!)|
All content and images copyright 2011 Christine Francis Barta unless otherwise noted. Please feel free to link to this post but please do not borrow content without proper credit since I worked pretty darn hard on it, thanks!