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Tips for Flea Market Shopping

May 21st, 2014 1:59 pm by Melissa Baskette

Tips for Flea Market Shopping

I love flea markets. Knowing that fact, my adult children and husband treated me to a trip to the Jonesborough Flea Market for Mother's Day. My daughter loves flea markets as much as I do. My son, not so much. But he went anyway, sweet boy. This day, I found only a couple of tiny treasures, but we shared precious time together and lots of laughs, then a nice meal at Bob Evans.

Our trip through the vendors' booths was purposefully quite a bit slower paced than my usual trips. Normally, my husband and I split up as soon as we park, with him looking at all the "guy stuff," and me quickly sprinting through the grounds, eyes darting back and forth, scanning booths for the treasures I'm interested in. I buy and sell vintage treasures, so I can spot pretty quickly what my clientele likes. We usually finish about the same time, connect via cell phone, and meet up to load our stuff and depart.

For the novice, I have compiled a list of tips for flea market shopping:

1. GET THERE EARLY. To get the best selection, you should arrive early. The best pieces, especially furniture, get snatched up during vendor setup. If you are looking for a furniture item, it is a good idea to go around the entire market once looking for it. Then, go around again to search for smaller items. I generally do two trips around, as on the second trip there will likely be some latecomer vendors that were not set up on the first go-round.

2. DRESS APPROPRIATELY. Wear comfortable shoes, and wear lightweight layers. This is not the time to break in new shoes. Wear your sneakers. Wear layers that can be added or removed as needed. Temperatures can change quickly, from slightly chilly mornings to blaring hot sun by the time you leave.

3. TAKE CASH. Take plenty of small bills. Keep it in a front pocket, or in a cross-body bag positioned in front. I like to take a predetermined amount to keep spending in check.

4. THINGS TO TAKE WITH YOU: Tape measure for measuring pieces to fit your space. Bottled water for hydration. Sturdy lightweight bag for your treasures. (I carry a foldable nylon bag; for mega flea markets, I have a shopping cart). Smartphone to Google items and to keep in contact with a shopping friend.

5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO HAGGLE: If an item seems a bit pricey, kindly ask for a lower price or make an offer. Most vendors expect it.

6. BE OPEN TO FIXER UPPERS. Don't be turned off by ugly upholstery or a hideous paint job on a great piece. Sometimes a little work can completely transform a bargain item. Do, however, consider the cost of sanding and refinishing/painting, or replacing foam and reupholstering before deciding whether you are really getting a "bargain." If it's a stunning piece that you absolutely love, and the initial cost plus labor and materials add up to quite a bit, you might still want to go for it.

7. IF YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE IT, DON'T WALK AWAY. It's the worst feeling to fall in love with an item, then walk away only to return and someone else snatched it up. If you love it, someone else will too. It probably won't be there when you go back for a second look.

Perhaps these tips will help you in navigating the flea market. Don't be afraid, venture in! If you have questions or comments, please contact me at

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