I never grew up going to thrift stores or flea markets, but as an adult it has become a passion of mine. I try to pop into a thrift store once a week to check out what’s new and weekends are prime for flea markets! As the weather warms up you will see more and more flea markets popping up. This past weekend was opening weekend at Stormville Flea Market. As a seasoned pro at shopping flea markets with a designer eye I wanted to share my tips for how to shop a flea market and the find the needles in the hay stacks because it can be overwhelming to a newbie!
Tip 1: Pay attention to the time you go. Most flea markets at open at 8am and at times it’s even possible to enter earlier if they have early bird tickets for purchase. If you go at standard opening hours the flea market should be free admission. I would recommend going early if you want to get first dibs on what is out and many resellers that purchase items to flip on Chairish, 1st Dibs, Etsy, etc go on the early side. To get the best possible deal I recommend going on the later part of the day on the day the flea market is ending. No vendor wants to drag heavy items back so, it’s the best time to negotiate. If it’s a rainy day you are even more likely to get a better deal! Less people go out and vendors just want to make a sale.
Tip 2: Give yourself a budget and stick to it. As a decorator when I go into a flea market I see so many possibilities and want to give all of these vintage treasures a home. I go to find pieces for clients and myself and not re-sell or consign. So, I need to give myself a budget. It helps me focus and really purchase what I like. If not, I would be spending all of my money and purchasing everything and everything that catches my eye!
Tip 3: Be prepared to walk away. In giving yourself a budget you know when you have to walk away. Many times vendors at a flea market that know what they have aka they know it’s a piece that would sell well on etsy, 1st dibs, etc price their items like they are the reseller which makes it a really high ticket item for you. I find that many vendors are willing to work with you, but there are some that think they are in a shop on 5th ave won’t budge. When this happens I make sure I take pics of what I wanted and search for it on my own and 9 times out of 10 I found a similar or same exact piece that I can order on ebay for a fraction of the price, which brings me to tip #4.
Tip 4: Do your research! We all have cell phones with wi-fi which gives us an upper hand when negotiating. I will always search online when I’m at a booth and ready to purchase something to see if they are offering a good price. You don’t want to pay $40 for a brass animal when it sells for $18 on etsy. It really helps for you to have pricing knowledge when you are bartering.
Case in point: Some vendors booths are a mix of old and new finds. I’m not a fan of this. There is a whole section of the flea market dedicated to new items where you can find clothing booths, make up, etc. When you are in the vintage section of the flea market you expect to find things that were found at an estate sale or boxes of garage sale goodies. While at the flea market this past weekend I found these tin planters for $8! Guess what? You can get them at the dollar tree for a dollar! I wanted to scream it from the roof tops when I saw it.
Tip 5: Make a shopping list. It seems simple, but many people don’t do this and when you have over 600 vendors to look thru it can get really overwhelming and you can totally forget what you even came for. My personal shopping list is always the same: Ginger jars, anything lucite, elephants, vintage entertaining pieces like trays, ice buckets, glassware, milk glass, and unique furniture pieces that need a little TLC.
Tip 6: Talk to vendors and grab business cards! If I find a booth I really love then I want to make sure I can find them again. You never know when they are going to get new stock and some vendors that specialize in a specific item like only vintage rugs or vintage fabric they tend to have constant new stock and are open to getting emails and selling outside of the flea market. Also as a designer/decorator if you open up and tell them that’s what you do for a living they know you have knowledge of their goods and it’s pricing and can appreciate their hard work and fair pricing. They also know you will probably lead to multiple sales and are more open to working with you.
Tip 7: Collections are key! If you aren’t sure what you what to purchase at a flea market I always find that starting a collection is always fun! Maybe you are drawn to vintage prints, brass animals, blue and white dishes, etc. My love for flea markets started with a passion for everything milk glass. I have a massive collection and I love growing it. It always gives me a game plan when I go to a thrift store or a flea market. I like to group them all together in my home and make a big impact, but they are also good to sprinkle throughout your home and use them for styling in bookcases, coffee tables, mantles.
Tip 7: Enjoy it! For us going out to a flea market is a family affair. We call it treasure hunting and give our kids a budget when they go. Typically it’s $5-$10 and they can go to the booths which tend to be full of used toys and pick out what they want. It makes them excited and keeps us all moving when everyone is tired because they always want to find another Hot Wheels car or Pokemon card. A rolling cart or wagon is key. It’s really helpful to store your treasures while you continue to shop. Cash is also key so, make sure you have it and the smaller the bills the better. Bigger booths with larger furniture pieces tend to take credit cards, but you never know.
He he. Poor Ash. Hudson loves him so much! Constantly squeezes him with love!
Hope these tips you when you are out at the flea market. If you have never been I highly recommend it. It’s fun to get out and walk around and just window shop if you like. There is always food and lemonade lots of booths with new items if that’s what you are more comfortable. I love having things that are different and have a story behind them. Going to a flea market and getting to find treasures that will get to live a whole new life in my house bring me so much joy!