Antique Show Tips & Tricks

The Portland Antique and Collectable Expo is about the vintage lover’s equivalent of a marathon. Or remember those Black Friday ads that Target had awhile back of a woman training for it? Yeah, it’s a bit like that.  But instead of once a year, it happens three times a year. With over 1,000 booths to visit, there’s certainly a lot to see and buy, but, depending upon your interest, very little time.

To make my Expo (or any antique show, for that matter) experience a little bit better, I plan ahead. And thought I’d share with you some of my tips to make shopping at antique shows easier.

The Night Before…

Since antique shows often start early, I decide what I’m going to wear and lay it out the night before. For some Expo is a time to show off. You’ll see women with arms of Bakelite, Victorian lovers dressed to the nines, and period perfect vintage guys and gals. Not me. You never know what you’re going to find or how it is going to be displayed. While one booth may have vintage clothes very beautifully displayed on racks, the booth right next to it may just have bins that you have to rummage through on the floor! So I typically go pretty casual, usually in Freddies (or a pair of capris or shorts during the summer show) paired with a blouse.  There’s a lot of walking involved too, which is another reason I opt for a more casual look. In my early years, during elementary and middle school, I donned a pair of running shoes. High school brought Converse with insoles, and until recently I wore very comfortable penny loafers. These days you’ll find my feet clad in Minnetonkas. I also pack my purse the night before, so I can just grab it and head out the door. And what goes in it is going to vary from person to person.

Bring a Tape Measure

If you’re on the hunt for clothes, a tape measure can save you a lot of time.  Usually if you wish to try something on, you must ask the dealer if you can take the garment into the restroom, although some dealers do have dressing rooms within their booths. Some dealers are very easy going, and allow you to do so, while others may request your ID or phone as collateral. Going to the restroom to try something on takes time, so if you know your measurements, and bring a tape measure, you can find out right off the bat if something will fit, and then it comes down to deciding if you want to do a blind buy (which I’ve done when garments are extremely well priced) or if you wish to take the time to try the garment on to see how it will look.

You also may be on the look out for a new coffee table or bookshelf.  Knowing your limits on space, and taking a tape measure to find out the dimensions of furniture is going to be a big plus.

Have an Organized Purse or Wallet

I take very little with me to Expo. I take my phone, cash wallet, that I have organized by bill size (which makes purchases quicker), my regular wallet, with my credit and debit cards, ID and business cards, tape measure, hand sanitizer, and tissues.

Bring Reusable Totes

While most dealers are keen enough to bring a slew of bags themselves, there are the dealers who just forget, so it’s a good idea to bring your own bags too.  Additionally, by taking a reusable tote (like the ones from Trader Joe’s) you alleviate the of risk of a bag breaking, it also allows you to consolidate purchases into one or two bags.

Some people bring those “granny” carts, others have rolling suitcases, and the most annoying will have wagons. Taking these is something I think one needs to consider carefully before going. If you know you’re really only on the hunt for jewelry, you probably don’t need one. But if you’re a vintage clothes horse, and think you’ll be coming home with five or more garments, then a cart may be something to take. Otherwise, if you’re just strolling through aisle with an empty cart, you’re liable to annoy those around you and clog up space.  It’s important to remember that most booths are going to be quite small and cramped.

Bring Cash & Stick to a Budget

With the advent of inventions such as Square and PayPal’s latest card accepting service, more and more dealers are now accepting cards, but it’s still always best to bring cash.  You often will get better deals, and dealers just like cash more.  It’s also important to have small bills with you.  Dealers will appreciate exact change for items, instead of you handing over a twenty for a five dollar item.  Cash gives you a strict budget too. And when you’re out, you’re out.  ATMs may or may not be available, and may or may not come with added fees.

Bring your Manners

It’s important to say things like “please” and “thank you” regularly, but I find them especially important at antique shows. If you disagree on a price, it’s important to be as pleasant as possible. And if you want to pass on something due to its price, saying things like “I think I’ll pass” or “I’ll think about it” are always your best bets. Making note of (either on paper or in your phone) the location of an item you are sincerely going to give thought to is a nice gesture as well, it shows the dealer you are going to consider their item. Not to mention it will also help you quickly relocate the treasure if you decide to go back! Also, don’t insult dealers by asking half (or less) of the price. A lot of time, money and work goes into being an antique dealer. There’s the time of finding the item, the cost of the item, the possible work of cleaning and/or repairing an item, then the money of renting a space, and the time of setting up and working the booth. When asking for a discount, how you phrase it takes tact. “What’s the best you could do?” “Would you be willing to take [insert price here] for this?” “Could you do any better?” are all fair questions to ask. Thanking a dealer for making a deal is important, and maybe sharing a story with them about the item you’re purchasing is a way for them to remember you, and possibly win you better deals at future shows. Ask for assistance when looking at cases.  Don’t reach in unless it’s obvious that it’s okay. Additionally, tight spaces often resulting in bumping into fellow antique lovers, saying “Sorry” is just the polite thing to do.

Stand & Scan

At large shows, such as Expo, you’re not going to have time to go into every single booth.  While there are many specialist booths (booths operated by those who deal only in one thing, such as postcards or glass) that you may automatically pass, there are going to be many generalist booths.  But you still will not have enough time to pop into each and every one, so it’s best to adopt the “stand and scan” method, in which you stand near a booth and glance across it, looking to see if there is anything of interest to make you want to go into a booth.

Don’t Rush to One Item

And when you do spy something you like, don’t rush right to it.  A dealer may observe your zeal, and be less willing to discount, thinking your enthusiasm will translate to $$$.  I often pop in, look at one or two other things before making my way to the item I was originally interested in.

Going in a Group?

If you’re attending with a group friends, or just your significant other, planning ahead about what to do if you get separated is important. Many shows may be located in buildings that have poor cell phone service, and calling to locate someone will result in dropped calls, or undelivered texts. Additionally, shows can be rather loud, and you may not hear your phone ring.  Plus, calling and relocating persons is time consuming. So it’s best not to rely upon cell phones. For us, you wait at the end of an aisle for the others in the group, and then proceed to the next aisle together.

Other Options…

I’ve seen people bring snacks or their lunch to the shows, which is a nice, and cheap option, instead of eating often lackluster and expensive concession stand food.  For me, I just pay the freight and eat there.  I don’t want to have to worry about packing a lunch and carrying it around all day.  But I do on occasion bring a bag of trail mix and/or a bottle of water, which fit in my purse.

A “rule” of antique shows growing up in my household was “Don’t wear what you collect.” And this rule is one of debate amongst antique goers.  For us, if you boasted what you collected, we felt your were less likely to get a deal, since a vendor would take one glance at you and think “Oh, well obviously they love this, and will pay whatever for it.”  But on the flip side, people may be willing to give you a deal, knowing that an item will go to a good home.

Happy hunting!

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