The Design Tree’s Guide to Flea Markets

Photo from Panjiayuan Antiques MarketPanjiayuan Antiques Market image via blood rice and noodles

My grandmother is an antiques dealer; she once owned her own shop and now she sells primarily online. From an early age she instilled in me a love of old things and a hunter’s instinct for a good deal. As a little girl I often went with her to auctions and flea markets looking for inventory for her shop. Sometimes I was even designated the haggler, because who could say no to an eight year old when she’s offering you a quarter for that mint condition, highly collectible vintage doll? To say I enjoyed these trips with my grandmother would be an understatement; I absolutely loved them.

Flea markets, both close to home and when I’m travelling, can still fill me with the same excitement today. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from my grandmother and from my own experiences that will hopefully make your next flea market trip a successful one.

Antiques Market in PanjiayuanPanjiayuan Antiques Market image via blood rice and noodles

Do Your Research Beforehand

The atmosphere in a busy flea market can be frenzied and often you don’t have much time to decide on purchases. It helps to do a little research beforehand. If you have your heart set on original art or local collector’s pieces you can research signs of authenticity, markings etc. so you’ll be able to come to a decision speedily and move on to the next booth.

Kitschy finds from a flea marketImage via Thompson Family Life

More Tourists Equals Fewer Deals

Flea markets abroad can definitely be tourist traps where you won’t find the deals and quality goods you are looking for. If you can, try to find out where the locals go in order to get the best finds. Locating a market off the beaten track will also usually lead to better deals than one in the centre of a big city.

The Junction Flea MarketJunction Flea via Love it A Lot

Only Buy What You Can’t Live Without

Faced with a box full of cheap and beautiful trinkets it can be tempting to just buy everything, but when you get home you might discover those precious purchases look a little bit more like junk than jewels when you can’t figure out where to put them. Try to evaluate each potential purchase individually: Do you love it? Have you ever seen anything like it before? What will you use it for? These are all good questions to ask yourself to ensure that you will be satisfied with your buys long after the thrill of the hunt has worn off.

Junction FleaJunction Flea via Love it A Lot

Come Prepared

If you know you’re going to be doing some serious shopping you don’t want to have to take multiple trips to the car, so bring a collapsible shopping cart or some large shopping bags to carry purchases that you pick up along the way.

Rose Bowl Flea Market

Rose Bowl Flea Market image via sfgirlbybay

The Go Early or Go Late Dilemma

First thing in the morning you are likely to get the best selection, but don’t expect to score many deals. Conversely, if you go at the end of the day the selection may be narrowed but as people are starting to pack up their booths they may be willing to cut you a deal, they’d rather sell it than carry it back home.

Flea Market in ParisParis Flea via Velvet and Linen

Haggle Respectfully

A little bit of “price negotiation” is often expected at most flea markets but depending on where you are in the world you will find that the protocol varies significantly. The best thing I can recommend is to haggle respectfully. The person selling the item you want to buy wants to make a living, and they have a good idea of what they can afford to let something go for. It never hurts to suggest a lower price or ask for a deal, just do so without being a bully.

Paris Flea MarketParis Flea image via Velvet and Linen

That’s all for today’s flea market guide. Have you been to any amazing flea markets around the world? Any one-of-a-kind finds? I’d love to hear where you’ve been and what you’ve found on your travels.

Happy Friday Everyone!

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