Flea Market Dos and Don’ts

With the holiday season (which for me includes Halloween) arriving soon, Patrick and I have been hitting up more flea markets in search of fresh vintage Halloween decor to add to our home, and after witnessing and overhearing certain things at the flea market I decided to go ahead with a dos and don’ts for flea markets. The same of course can be said for antique shows!

I love flea markets and antique shows. They are a wonderful way to spend a day and the perfect place to find unique items. I always recommend flea markets (especially large outdoor ones) as a place to go to if you’re searching for vintage furniture. The Long Beach Antique Market offers a lot of vintage and antique furniture.

Do

Do plan ahead! Make sure you know where to park (if it costs money to park), what the hours are, and how much admission (if any) is before leaving.

Do take cash! Even with technology like Square, PayPal, and other card readers for smartphones, many dealers only take cash. Small bills are always preferred by many dealers. Some markets have ATMs on site, however there can be fees associated with these ATMs.

Do wear something comfortable. Flea markets are often early in the morning, can be chilly, but can warm up as the day goes on, so consider layers. Also remember you may be moving in between tight and sometimes dirty spaces. Some dealers have items that are “barn fresh” and don’t take the time to clean them. You may also be bending over, inspecting items, or rummaging through boxes of items. You’re also going to be doing a lot of walking.

Do take a beverage with you. Coffee, energy drink, water, stay hydrated! Some flea markets however may not allow for outside beverages, and some dealers may ask that you not eat or drink within their booth.

Do bring “extra space” with you. Some people take wagons or “granny carts” with them to flea markets and antique shows, however, I’ll openly admit, I am kind of annoyed with them. On one level I totally understand their use, practicality, and ease. However, they really crowd the aisles, and people run over others with them. Seriously, if everyone brought a cart with them, there would be no room to function. It’s important to note that some markets have outright banned wheeled carts. I take reusable totes (typically the thick cloth ones from Trader Joe’s) it makes it easier to carry items, and the bags or more durable than paper or plastic ones dealers may give you.

Do bring a tape measure with you. Whether it is for measuring clothing or furniture, it is always good to know if a dress or chair will work out ahead of purchasing it.

Do closely inspect items prior to making offers and/or purchasing. Know what you are getting yourself into, and if something needs repairs. You may also spy something wrong with an item that the dealer did not see, and you may get a better deal.

Do ask questions! If you want to try something on, ask about taking the garment to the rest room. Some dealers may require you to leave your ID with them. If you are purchasing a large item, ask if you may leave the item with the dealer until you are done shopping. However, I rarely do this after a very unfortunate incident, and will return something large to my car.

Do talk with dealers and built relationships. Dealers remember their good customers, which can result in better deals down the road.

Don’t

Don’t expect steep discounts early in the day. But consider checking back later in the day to see if the item has sold and by that time the dealer may be willing to take a lower price.

Don’t make unreasonable offers on items. For the most part reasonable is between 10% and 25% off of the price. Recently I overheard a buyer ask $10 for a $25 item. Low ball offers are insulting to dealers.

Don’t expect to go back and forth a ton on a price. The stuff you’ve seen on TV (like American Pickers) does not realistically reflect what actually goes on at flea markets. Typically a dealer tells you a price (either verbally or by way of price tag), and you ask “Will you take ____ for this?” or “Can you do any better?”, then the dealer will either accept your offer, or make a counter offer. It’s best to either accept the counter offer or pass. If you say you’ll pass or need time to think, they may ask for another offer or what you had in mind.

Don’t pass up on something you’re really in love with. It may be gone if you decide to come back later!

Don’t bring your dog unless you have checked first with a market’s website. Few markets allow pets.

Dos and Don’ts that are up for debate…

Do/Don’t rush to an item you are interested in. For the most part, there are two kinds of dealers out there, ones that are really just in it for money, (we’ll call this person Dealer A) and those who want their items to go to a good home (Dealer B). Rushing toward one item in particular shows immense interest. To Dealer A, this looks like dollar signs! They think “Oh! They must really want this item! So they will pay big bucks for it!” and if the item doesn’t have a price tag, they may tell you a higher price, or not barter as much because they think you really want it, and therefore pay more. For Dealer B, they see your interest as love, and seeing your enthusiasm means their item is going to a place where it will be loved and taken care of, so they may be willing to make a better deal for you. I have had both of these scenarios play out for me. I have heard better deals after I have rushed to an item, and walked away, but I have also heard dealers say things like “It seems like it’s going to a good home/You really seem to love it/etc. so I’ll let you have it for ____.”

Do/Don’t wear what you love. Like the reasons explained in rushing to an item, wearing what you love shows interest. However it can result in dealers pointing out items that you may have missed or that they haven’t unpacked yet (because sometimes dealers are still unpacking early in the day). I had this happen to me recently at both a vintage clothing store, and at the Long Beach Flea Market. In both cases I bought the items.

Southern California Flea and Antique Markets

The Coast Vintage Market

Long Beach Antique Market

Palm Springs Vintage Market

Rose Bowl Flea Market

We are always shopping at antique malls, but we’ll be visiting a little more frequently soon, for the same mission, on the hunt for fresh Halloween decor, and between those shopping experiences and the horror stories my dad tells me from his experiences lately as an antique dealer within an antique mall, I’ll likely do a Dos and Don’ts of antique malls soon!

5 thoughts on “Flea Market Dos and Don’ts

  1. Yeah, I went to the vintage garage sale and a lady seller was trying to give me a bunch of items for cheap and as nice as that was of her to do. I knew none of the items she was trying to sell me would get a lot of use form me. However when they were closing up she was giving away a rack of clothing for free. I got an Oscar del la Renta leopard twin set for free.

  2. “Barn fresh” made me laugh – very evocative! Very thoughtful tips. Also, on the “back and forth” of bargaining: don’t make an offer if you aren’t prepared to pay the price you’re suggesting.

  3. The case of unreasonable offers can though be a tricky one. There are dealers who ask sky high prices because they understand themselves as high quality, design, vintage whatever sellers and there are some that ask reasonable or very low prices for a comparable item. It helps when I make up my mind on the price before I ask, how much am I willing to spend on the item, no matter what the asked price is. If the dealer has a price that is too far away from my expectation, I don’t see any need to argue. If I would have asked before I decided on my limit, I might have been biased by the told price.
    And layer dressing is also very practical, because sometimes you don’t need to go to the bathroom to try dresses. I always try to wear separates, a simple t-shirt underneath and shoes I can get out quickly, so I can try many garments and shoes without going to the bathroom.

  4. Very practical, many good insights overall! I especially agree the buyer keeping a “poker face” so to speak, as I know I’ve had several nice deals looking to other items first before going to what I truly love. It also allows you to strike up a conversation with a seller, start a relationship and gain the meeting of the mind. Bravo!

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