How To Shop A Flea Market For Fun and Success

How To Shop A Flea Market For Fun and Success



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!!!

7 Steps to Fabulous Finds at Antique Markets

Have you ever decided that you just aren’t allowing yourself time for the fun things in life?  You know, the activities that make your heart sing.  The things you do that put a smile on your face?  I know that for me to be happy, I need to be creative. I love to find little (or big) treasures that need some tender loving care (I’m a nurturer), and discover ways to make them beautiful.

Last weekend I decided that it’s been a long time since I’ve given myself permission to explore the creative side of my personality.  And the perfect time was here to do some exploring and shopping at the local antiques market.  Just thinking about it got me excited!  What a perfect way to spend a beautiful, hot, lazy Saturday in the South.

At the end of my successful day, I discovered that there are some things you need to do to prepare for your adventure.  So sit back, put on your “creativity cap” and follow along!


1. Set an intention to have fun.Go with a mind open to the possibilities of things you might discover.  Have a sense of adventure.  The perfect garden decoration or wall art might be there.

Wagon garden art

2. Make a plan. It’s nice to be spontaneous.  We all do that sometimes.  But it’s also important, for your wallet and your space constraints, to think about what you might want or need to complete a decorating project.  I even think about what my daughters, friends, and clients are looking for, and have been known to email a photo or two.  The most important part of planning is to decide how much you’re willing tospend for an item.  If you set a limit to your spending, you’re less inclined to get carried away by the excitement and spend too much.

Table and chair set

3.Arrive early.  Go back late.Always go to the market on the first day to see the best selection of merchandise.  And on the flip side, visiting the show on the last afternoon might yield a special discount or two.  If a vendor has to ship unsold items back home, or hasn’t sold much, they are often willing to negotiate a better price.

4. Take plenty of cash or your check book.Most vendors don’t give the option of credit card purchases.  If they do, it’s likely you will be asked to pay an extra percentage to cover their fees.  That being said, cash is what they prefer.  So go prepared.

5.Put on your “creative cap”.Don’t reject an item because it’s not perfect or looks strange.  Sometimes strange is good.  And imperfection is just an opportunity for your creative juices to flow.

6.Don’t get in over your head with a complicated project.You are the only person who can decide how much you want to tackle on a “fixer-upper” item.  Remember that your husband, son-in-law, or father might not want to spend their time on your perfect “find”.  And don’t buy something that looks like a good deal that you can use later.  I ended up selling some stained glass windows at a garage sale (and losing money) because I couldn’t gather enough enthusiasm to even begin the refinishing process!

7. Consider how your purchases will get home.Is your car big enough?  Do you know of a delivery company?  How much will shipping cost?  These are things you need to think about before you purchase something large.   Last summer the precious $25.00 wicker baby buggy I purchased in Newport, RI was going to cost $250 to ship to Atlanta.

In the car

Antique markets can be fun if you remember to be prepared.  I would love to hear about your flea market adventures.  Please leave a comment or email me any photos you’d like to share.


Happy shopping!!!!!