Flea Markets 101: Tips for Beginners
It doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, collector or browser, expert or generalist, child or adult—there is something for everyone at flea markets and antiques fairs. These assemblages of people, objects, history, and odd places are great for all walks of life. Below are some tips on how to maximize your antiques fair and flea market experiences to make sure you get the most out of them.
There are some basic things you should always remember when attending flea markets and antiques fairs:
- Wear sunscreen (if outdoors).
- Wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes.
- Bring plenty of drinking water.
- Bring ample carrying options/adequate transportation in case you buy something (or many things).
- Bring cash if you're looking to buy things.
- Bring snacks or arrive with a full stomach.
If you adhere to these basic guidelines, you're more likely to enjoy your time in the most comfortable, non-stressed manner possible. You're also more likely to make smart shopping decisions (if that's what you're there to do), as you'll not be starving, parched, or otherwise uncomfortable.
Tips on Timing
Flea markets and antiques fairs have an interesting sort of timing sequence. Here's how to navigate around it:
- If you're a serious shopper, and if you're looking for highly sought-after items, come early. Often, visitors are charged more to enter flea markets early, but if you're looking to make serious purchases, it's worth it.
- If you're looking for a good bargain, start haggling late. As the day comes to a close, sellers are more tired and less prone to be shrewd about their pricing. They may also be looking to unload extra merchandise and more willing to let you lighten the burden they'll have to pack up.
- If you arrive in the middle of the event, move to the farthest reaches of the market and make your way toward the entrance. When high volumes of people begin to arrive at flea markets, they tend to coalesce toward the entrances, mostly because they don't get too far inland before being distracted by interesting objects. To beat the crowd, put on your pretend blinders and make your way to the back.
Games to Play
Even if you're not looking to make a purchase, antique fairs can be full of fun shenanigans and games. One of the most enjoyable activities for flea market-goers who are simply accompanying a friend, spouse, or family member is the "flea market scavenger hunt". To play, simply establish a list of items to find before arriving at the event. At the event, players can hunt for these items, and the first person to find all of them wins (if one's honesty ever comes into question, this game can be played with digital cameras or camera phones). This game can also be played solo. Here are some potential items to put on the list:
- Headless doll
- Broken camera
- Coke bottle
- Pillbox hat
- Military helmet
- Old family photo
- Elvis record
- Salt and pepper shakers
- Sparrow imagery
- Samurai sword
You can also hold a mini-contest challenging players to find the most interesting occurrences of these or any other items.
It is also fun to play hide-and-seek at these events, but establish rules about running—it's best to have "discovery" established by eye contact instead of physical tagging to avoid damaging potentially expensive antique products.
Awesome Flea Market FindsClick thumbnail to view full-size
If you're going to a flea market or antique fair, prepare to bargain. Personally, I'm not much of a bargainer, but I've seen enough of it (and been roped into enough of it as well) to offer some basic pointers below:
- Wait until the end of the day: As I mentioned above, you're more likely to be able to shimmy a price a bit lower if it's the end of the day and vendors are looking to unload inventory and get home.
- Be willing to walk away: The less "necessary" an item is to you and the more willing you are to walk away from the purchase altogether, the more likely the sellers is to offer you a lower price.
- Suggest a price lower than what you'd settle for: This is bargaining basics 101, but it's worth mentioning. The whole dance of bargaining is that the seller posts a price higher than they'd settle for, and you offer a price way lower, and you shimmy around until you find something that works for the both of you.
- Leverage damage or imperfections to lower the price: Carefully inspect the items you seek to buy—if they're damaged in any way, ask if they might be willing to help you with the price to compensate for the damage.
- Consider asking for a freebie: Vendors are not always willing to cut down prices, but sometimes they'll be willing to throw in another small item. Consider asking for a deal if you buy multiple items at once or asking for a small freebie to sweeten the attractiveness of a large purchase.