It’s that time of year again…  The weather turns warm, school is winding down, and everyone wants to be outside on a beautiful, sunny day.  That’s what happened to me last weekend, and I took full advantage of it by stopping at a local antiques and art festival.  I wasn’t looking for anything special.  To me the fun is seeing what’s available, what is a good deal, and what I can re-purpose to use at home.  But sometimes, it’s a good idea to know how to shop a flea market for success and…fun.  Because if you’re a newbie to this adventurous activity (Yes, I do call it an adventure!), you need to know the drill.

Decide if you’re going alone or with a friend. Sometimes going alone is easier and faster if you’re in a rush.  But when you shop with a friend, and stay together, your eyes will open to things you might never have given a glance.  And friends usually add their own extra creative ideas on how to use things.

Be prepared for success. Check the newspapers or websites in your area to see which flea markets and antique fairs are happening.  Explore their website to see which vendors will be there and what categories are being sold. Sometimes you’ll even find a map for the show that lets you plan your route ahead of time.  This is a great time saver if you’re on a tight schedule. 

Set a budget and make a list. Decide how much you’re willing to spend on an item.  I always find that you’re willing to pay more for something that you absolutely love.  You’ll know it right away.  If you have to walk away to think about it, then it might not be for you.  We all value different things.

Don’t forget to measure your space at home if you’re looking for the perfect piece to fit it.

Think about how you’ll be transporting your perfect “find” back home. Do you need to bring a truck?  I once bought a darling antique wicker baby buggy at an auction in Newport, RI for $25.  I was so excited!  I had the plans all laid out for refinishing it and adding a cute fabric lining for my granddaughters.  Imagine my huge disappointment when I took it to the UPS store and learned it was going to cost $250 to ship back to ATL. 

Dress for success. You never know what the weather will be like, or where vendors are located…unless you’ve done your homework and scoped out the market ahead of time.  Usually flea markets are outside, so use your head and dress appropriately.  Don’t forget sunscreen.  But the biggest thing to remember is to carry a bag for water and snacks to sustain you throughout the day.  If you’re like me, and on a mission, or simply browsing and enjoying your time there, it’s nice to not have to stop for a meal. 

Fill your wallet. Most places will only take cash or checks.  Some won’t even take checks.  Make sure you have plenty of cash.  Though some markets will have an ATM or two, it’s always best to be prepared. 

Pack the right gear. Some people suggest bringing a folding cart to carry your purchases.  But first know the layout of the market or festival you’ll be attending.  Some festivals have vendors on either side of a narrow winding path in the woods.  This is hard enough to navigate with strollers and hundreds of people, so a cart would not be a good idea.   But bringing your own shopping bags should definitely be on your checklist. Remember to have a charged cell phone with pictures of areas in your home where you need something new.  It also comes in handy to take a pic of that special item that you want to remember.  Don’t forget your tape measure to check dimensions so things will fit. I once had a friend purchased a huge armoire for her bedroom, only to discover that it wouldn’t fit up the stairs or through the doorway.  This became one of those “Oh no! What was I thinking?” purchases.

Get there early!  It’s always best to arrive when the market opens.  Dealers out shopping for their own clients and shops will be there as soon as the doors open.  If you hate to buy the first thing you see, take a pic of the booth number and the item you love.  Then you can scroll through all the photos after you’ve done a quick run through of the market.  If you still love it, you know exactly where to go.

Never pass by the special stuff.  When you see something that absolutely screams “buy me”, you’d better do it immediately.  If you love it, someone else will too.  Remember the mantra “if you snooze, you lose”.  I’ve found some beautiful treasures using that philosophy.

Check for quality.  Before making your purchases always be sure to inspect the piece carefully.  Check for chips and dings and dents that affect the appearance and the value of whatever you’re buying. 

Stay Clean.  Sometimes you need to be prepared to dig through piles of dirty items to find the gem you want to take home.  I did that once, and uncovered some treasured antique wood blocks used to print fabrics in India.  I had them framed with velcro on the back so that I can remove them to actually use them if I want.  And if you do this, be sure to have a pile of Wet Wipes in your bag.  I mean, who want s grubby hands all day?

Get to know the vendor.  You never know what piece of history they can tell you about the piece you’re looking at.  To me, that’s the fun of flea market shopping…only buying items that have a story.  Once I learned the background of my  trench art pieces, I was sold!

At this point you should be well on your way to planning your first flea market/antique fair excursion.  Have a fun… and adventurous time!!!