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Your First Flea Market – A Visitor’s Guide

Brimfield Antiques ShowBrimfield Antiques Show

So you’d like to hit a flea market this weekend? Fantastic! If you’re a seasoned flea market hunter, this list will probably note a lot of ideas that already feel like second nature. But for those of you just starting to dip your toes into the exciting world of thrifting, read on! Here we have a step-by-step guide to get the most out of your first flea market visit from a self-proclaimed flea market junkie.

Restored Antique Dress    A gorgeous antique dress, fully restored to original condition.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Footware, hardware, wall-ware; what more could you needFootware, hardware, wall-ware; what more could you need?

While you’re sure to spot advertisements for markets in your daily commute, it’s always a good idea to hop on the internet for the basics. A simple Google search for ‘flea markets (your town/state)’ is a great start. If you have any thrifty friends, ask them for recommendations too! At this stage you can decide exactly what you’re looking for in a flea market – do you plan on spending your entire Saturday or Sunday at this market hunting for a specific item? Are you just interested in a few hours of relaxed browsing? Are you willing to drive far for this market, or need something close by? Do you have a particular type of thing you’re interested in buying, and want to pick the flea market most likely to showcase those things? In our digital age it’s fairly easy to read reviews of events from other flea market goers, so see what people are saying about your chosen flea. Do they usually have very high end antiques at similarly high prices? A whole lot of junk, perfect for bargain hunters? What is the cost/availability of parking? Is there an entrance fee? Restrooms? Food and water? I tend to jot the basics of my target flea on a piece of paper, which I keep in my wallet. A basic run down might be:

  • Name of the Flea
  • Town (and hopefully a street address for your GPS!)
  • Date(s) and hours
  • Parking location and cost
  • Any tips you want to keep in mind (‘they have amazing burgers at so-and-so’s cart!’ or ‘restrooms are located at the back left of the field!’)
  • Entrance fee (if any)
Step 2: Make a Prep List
At this point you may have found photos and positive reviews for your flea, and hopefully you’re getting excited. Like the boy scouts, a flea market hunter is always prepared! Check the weather a few days before your flea and plan accordingly – downpours may close down some markets, while others are rain or shine. If it’s going to be a scorcher, dress in layers and stock up on the sunblock. Here’s my basic packing/prep list for the days leading up to the weekend of my flea:
  • Sunblock (I can’t stress this one enough, nothing ruins a fun day faster than lobster-red shoulders and noses!)
  • A bottle of water (pop it in the fridge the night before!)
  • Good walking shoes
  • Appropriate clothes/layers
  • Possibly a sun hat
  • Cash! (cash is king at flea markets, set a budget for yourself and bring your cash tucked safely on your person, in a good mix of small and large bills)
  • A backpack or reusable cloth bag, possibly a folding cart (this will depend on what you’re on the hunt for!)
  • Gas in the car (or your bus pass, train fare, etc)
  • Snacks (trail mix, fruit, etc)
  • A quick lunch (I grab a $2 boxed sandwich from my local gas station the morning of)
  • A credit card (in case you run out of cash but find an ATM)

Step 3: Make a Wish List

The never ending quest for gorgeous suitcasesThe never ending quest for gorgeous suitcases…

This is one of the most fun parts – daydream about what you hope to find! This step is completely optional, because some people have the most fun wandering a flea market just to see what treasures you find. But I find some markets, especially the bigger ones, to be a bit overwhelming. I like to make a list and use it as a rough guide, keeping an eye out for certain things and having a price point in mind. For example, I collected vintage suitcases but knew I didn’t want to spend over $45 per case. As tempting as the original 1900s Luis Vuitton trunk was, I had to remind myself of my budget and avoid breaking the bank to take it home. I also had noted that I was looking specifically for ‘Skyway’ cases for a friend; having that info in hand made it easy to approach dealers and start a conversation about what they were offering that day.

Step 4: Get Some Rest!

Mid-century eclectic and modernMid-century eclectic and modern

Many flea markets open fairly early, so it’s important to get a good night’s rest the evening before. Set your alarm accounting for enough time to snag breakfast, prepare, and travel time. The truly landmark markets may have traffic nearby even at very early hours, so be sure to leave yourself enough time and try to stay optimistic even if getting it is a bit hairy. I have a morning ritual of getting an extra large iced coffee for the trip in, which puts me in a pretty great mood no matter how early the hour!

Step 5: Set a Pace and Be Nice

There's seating for everyoneThere’s seating for everyone!

Once you get parked and settled in, try to pace yourself. There’s probably a lot to see and plenty of time to do so, so don’t rush yourself and enjoy the walking. Many flea market dealers are incredibly nice, and will usually happily engage you in conversation rife with insider tips. Of course there may be the occasional Grumpy Gus, I just give them a quick smile and politely move on to more pleasant pastures. The people you’re shopping with are likely to be a mixed bag, with seasoned hunters and first-timers alike. Professional designers, antique dealers, parents with children, collectors, local neighbors – flea markets bring all sorts of people together! The unwritten rules of shopping are no mystery, they’re the same rules of politeness you might find anywhere. If someone is chatting with a dealer about a price, it’s rude to jump in and offer a higher price to snatch it away from them. It’s unkind to push and shove, however thrilling the deals are at a particular booth. A hand on an item is a sign that you’re interested in it, and if someone else wants it the polite thing to do is to wait until you’ve placed it down and moved on. Flea market dealers will usually haggle on the price, but asking nicely is still required (especially if you want them to say yes!)

Step 6: Enjoy!

Shop Hartford Denim CompanyShop: Hartford Denim Company

Flea markets are fun, eclectic places where things are never the same way twice. From early American furniture to Victorian jewelry, locally made food and drink to hand crafted home decor, you’re sure to find something of interest. An energetic friend can be essential in your flea market travels (twice as many arms to carry things!), and make the experience even more memorable. I hope your first flea market trip is exciting, fun, and filled with treasure, and inspires you to visit another and another, because no two fleas are the same!

The author enjoying her first trip to Brimfield Antique ShowThe author enjoying her first trip to Brimfield Antique Show

All photos are copyright by Erika Hapke of La Roux Vintage and can be found at La Roux Vintage on Instagram

Erika is the owner of La Roux Vintage. When not out scouring the greater Boston area for vintage home decor, she can be found running, painting, teaching herself to play the accordion and drinking copious amounts of coffee.