Some people cringe at the thought of sifting through dusty old antiques at a flea market, and they regard them as “useless garbage.” That breaks our vintage loving little hearts, but it also leaves all of the good items for us – so we’re not complaining! It’s safe to say flea markets are the bread + butter to our business, especially when we’re on the hunt for new pieces to add to our ever-expanding inventory. We thought it was only appropriate to answer the most popular question we’re asked: how do you find the good stuff? Read along for our tips and tricks to navigating a flea market.
First of all, it’s good to know which ones you would like to attend. Check online and scour the street signs for upcoming community flea markets, estate sales, or garage sales. Some large flea markets throughout the country make for a fun road trip: Round Top, Canton, Brimfield, Brooklyn, and Spingfield are some of the most popular. You’ll want to get there early, because sift through the merchandise quickly in the morning and nab the best pieces. Grab your best friends, a cup of coffee, and get shopping!
Be sure to have plenty of cash on hand; while some vendors will accept cards, many won’t. Prepare your bargaining tactics, and if you find something you absolutely must acquire, place your hand on it while negotiating with the dealer so that if another potential buyer comes to make an offer, you have first dibs and the opportunity to counter-offer. You don’t want to insult the dealer by going too low, but you also don’t want to start too high in your negotiations as they’ll usually meet you about halfway. Also, the more you buy, the bigger the discount they’ll offer you, generally speaking.
When assessing the items in front of you, have an open mind. Not everything will be in mint condition, but that’s why vintage is coveted – scratches and dings tell the tales of its previous owners and the adventures that item’s been through. We reupholster about 95% of all items we locate at the flea market. Many pieces have stains and dirty covering them when we initially purchase them, but we then strip them down, re-fill their cushions, and spruce them up with new fabric – they’re good as new when we’re finished.
We’ve also learned to always bring plenty of water and snacks, as these items are often very pricey to purchase on the grounds. A little red wagon is our top choice for hauling smaller items around the market; you can gather more items and not have to carry them back to the car this way.
You can re-stain the wood of a table that’s faded over time, bringing it back to its original luster with a bit of elbow grease and polish. There are replacement legs for many vintage sofas online, so if it’s missing a specialty foot, you can surely locate another matching one. A basket can be turned into a lighting fixture with the help of a lighting specialist. Old books can be wrapped for a cohesive look on your shelves. We also love sourcing vintage fabric and blankets for use as upholstery at the flea markets, because it provides your pieces with a one-of-a-kind feel. Don’t overlook an item that requires some work, but do be sure to include the cost of fabric, stain, or replacement parts into your negotiations.
The creative process of turning a piece of junk into a lovely treasure is very rewarding. Rather than throwing away something because it’s old or outdated, you can bring new life to it for many years to come. Plus, you’re sure to meet some of the loveliest people while out shopping – the best part about vintage furniture is that it has a story, and the owners always love to share the background on items whenever they can.
Here are some favorite flea market finds from our own collection: