I often half jokingly tell people that I was raised in the aisles of flea markets and fabric stores and it really is not far from the truth. When I was 3 my parents moved from their dreamy 70’s home with hot pink and orange shag carpeting in Dallas to a small town in north Texas called McKinney. Not only did we move, we moved into a 100 year old Victorian home. All my parents had was their chrome and wood laminate furniture from their modern house so there was a lot of decorating to be done and antiques to be bought. From as early as I can remember weekends were spent going to various small Texas towns like Pilot Point, Whitewright, Canton, and Tioga – any where there was a flea market. Over the last 30 years my parents have built themselves an impressive collection of antiquities and I picked up a serious addiction to flea markets.
One of my earliest memories of a flea market involves toilets and tears. A vendor had a pink and white plastic toilet that went with my Barbie Dream Home set perfectly and I wanted it bad. I asked my dad for the .25 cents that it costs and he said he would only give it to me if I asked the vendor if he would take .10 cents for it instead. I took the quarter and marched over to the man to haggle for the first of many times. I asked him my question and better yet he just gave me the toilet for free. Who can resist a small child asking someone for their best price? As the legend goes, this free toilet brought me to tears right there in the booth. When my parents and the nice vendor asked what was wrong I explained through the sobs that I didn’t get any change back.
If I cry anymore at a flea market they are tears of joy over things like giant panda heads & tacky naked lady paintings for my bathroom. Today was the City Wide Garage Sale here in Austin and though no tears were shed, some treasures were found. For starters I found a $24 crazy quilt. Sure it is a bit rat sucked as my mother would say, but it’s nothing a few passes on my sewing machine can’t fix. I am either going to make it into a bedspread, maybe curtains or possibly cut it up and make throw pillows. I even chatted with a woman who owns a fun little store called The Vintage Laundry who said she could recover a couch with the quilt Squint Limited style! Other scores of the day include a pair of confetti Lucite earrings, hand painted castanets and millinery flowers.
While I shopped my friend Erin and I filmed a quickie little video with 5 hot tips on shopping at a flea market. Please excuse my starting every sentence with the word always. These are just a few tried and true life lessons I have learned over the last several years. Remember I scheduled my wedding around the Round Top flea market, flew to Massachusetts last year to go to Brimfield and spent one of my favorite birthdays ever under the California sun at the Rose Bowl Flea Market – so I speak from experience.
Here is a more in depth list of tips and tricks when making the flea market circuit. Let me know if you have any tips that I am forgetting or tricks of the trade that you want to share.
Choose your shopping partner wisely. You don’t want to go to the flea market with someone looking for the exact same things you are, that can get awkward about who saw it first. Make sure your partner shops at about the same speed as you. A big talker is also known as a big distraction. While you are trying to courtesy nod at their annoying stories you are missing treasures galore.
Make a list of the key items you are searching for, it is easy to get to the flea market and get overwhelmed.
Tell your shopping partners what you are searching for so that they can also help you keep an eye peeled.
Don’t bring a metal rolling cart with you, they are bulky and prevent you from going in tight fitting (possibly treasure filled) booths.
Don’t just walk the middle of the aisles scanning booths, especially if you are a jewelry designer. There is no way you can see everything that is hidden inside
the booth from walking down the center of the aisles.
Wear a tight fitting tank top underneath your T-shirt that way you can take your first layer off and try on clothes right there in the booth even without a dressing room.
Bring a list of measurements and a measuring tape. If you have spaces in your house where you are looking for a new piece of furniture measure the space so that when you find something at the flea market you can measure it and see if it will work.
Carry fabric or paint swatches if you are trying to match something.
Carry a cell phone, not a walky talky. You want to be able to get in touch with your shopping partners in crime should you get separated, but no one else at the flea market wants to hear you chat with your friend over a two-way radio.
Wear something comfortable. Much like how you can spot the newbies at the airport by those that have their shoes off before they even step into the security line, those that dress for fashion as opposed to comfort at the flea market are equally obvious. Trust me wear tennis shoes, your feet will thank you for it later.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone their best price or if they will give you a better deal if you buy a bunch of something. Most dealers expect this. Just don’t offer someone an insultingly low price or wave money in their face.
Vendors have feelings too. Just like when you are vending at a craft fair and you want to whack shoppers that are muttering things like “$10! I could just make this myself” keep your comments to yourself at the flea market. Vendors don’t want to hear your snide under the breath comments about how their prices are too high, things are junky and they also probably don’t care if you had that when you were a little girl.
If the flea market is outside pack some sun block.
Take your biggest car. The day you decide to drive your 2 door sedan instead of your gas guzzling SUV is the day you find a Heywood Wakefield Dining Room set with matching chairs for $150 that you can’t get home.
Don’t dress the part. I’m not saying dress like a homeless person but if I am sporting a cha-cha bracelet, fancy earrings and a big necklace and asking someone what their best price is on a bag of Bakelite Beads they are going to take one look at me and know that I am a jewelry designer and quote me a price accordingly.
Most importantly consume at least one of the following: Funnel Cake, Sausage on a Stick, Kettle Corn, Ice Tea Slushie or Caveman style Turkey Leg.