You are either allergic to or an avid fan of flea markets. What some people mistake as moldy and dusty scavenging, others recognize as a joyful and serendipitous treasure hunt. My sister and I fall securely in the camp of the latter. Each year, we join thousands of hunters descending on the quaint and tiny town of Brimfield in central Massachusetts for the Brimfield Antique Show.
Since the 1950s, Brimfield has been home to thousands of collectible and antique dealers for one week each in May, July and September annually. (I most recently went to the one in July, and if you’re interested, the September one takes place next week!) As with any arduous journey, we needed to strategically plan our movements through the wild. Regardless of whether or not you’re visiting the largest flea market in the country, you can learn from our experience and expand your antique hunting abilities no matter where you’re shopping. After all, the flea market season can last year-round in the South, so we hope these tips will help you maximize your junking.
1. Pre-Show Preparedness
Bring snacks and beverages. Nourishment is vital to your longevity in the field. Pack plenty of water, protein bars and a few apples to sustain you. Not every market is lucky enough to have Faddy’s apple cider doughnuts (which you cannot subsist on alone for 48 hours. Trust.), and I know that beer with lunch is tempting, but you’d be best to avoid alcohol since you don’t want to compromise your bargaining skills.
Dress appropriately. Obvious, right? You’d be surprised at the lack of common sense I’ve seen displayed. Wear your sneaks, a comfortable day dress or loose chinos and layers. This also includes proper rain gear, sunscreen and a hat. It’s hard to carry all of your loot when your arms are inflamed in pain from a sunburn!
Make a wish list. You certainly won’t find everything on your list, but you will at least have a good starting point for where to focus your energies. Measure the spaces in your home that you’re buying for, including maximum and minimum ranges, and bring a lightweight tape measure with you. That said, don’t be scared to go off-list!
2. During show strategery
Make your first purchase as soon as possible. You need to break the seal, so just go ahead and buy the first trinket that catches your eye. (On this trip, mine was a $5 gourd.) That way, when you do spot that perfect item, you won’t hesitate to pull the necessary trigger.
Bargain! Flea market dealers expect for you to bargain with them. Even if you only save $5 with each purchase, it can add up quickly. Be respectful, negotiate fairly, and don’t quibble if an item is already priced low. If you’re buying several items at once, you can usually talk the total price down even more. My sister and I bargained one dealer down from $1,300 to $800 by buying an unseemly number of items.
Leave breadcrumbs. You won’t be able to carry all of your purchased treasures, so the dealers will often let you leave the items to pick up later. Always get a receipt, a booth number and, most importantly, a phone number. At a show with over 6,000 vendors and 20+ fields, this record keeping was vital for us. Keep a detailed record of all your purchases including descriptions, quantity and price. This will not only help you double check that you’ve picked up all of your winnings, but it will also help you figure out where the heck all of your cash went. In addition, this will help you track which vendors were the best so that you can revisit them next time.
3. Post-show acceptance
Enjoy an ice-cold beverage, stat. Then discuss each and every item you purchased with your market buddy, and reassure each other that you got the most unique finds at the cheapest prices ever known to humans.
Find homes for your finds. Did you buy 17 antique French potato sacks intending to make pillows? Don’t let the fabric languish. Take it to the upholsterer right away so you can enjoy your spoils. Find a place for that oddly large Superman figure and a home for that vintage bean sifter.
Plan your next adventure! Were you bitten by the antiquing bug? Plan your next trip and vow to bargain lower, wear more comfortable shoes and to buy the dang urological anatomy poster that you passed on this time.
Come along on all of our adventures — follow us on Instagram. We’re @StyleBlueprint. Share your antiquing finds with the hashtag #SBFleaFinds.