How to Shop a Flea Market or Antique Fair
Take advantage of discount prices and quick sales
Antiques fairs offer great deals on salvage, such as this fireplace summer front.
These events put everything on display, from ornately carved corbels and stained-glass windows to wingback chairs and highboy dressers, often at 50 percent off what you would pay at salvage yards and antiques stores. Dealers tend to price wares for quick sale because whatever doesn't get bought has to be packed up and carted away at their expense when the event's over. It's also about volume; wholesale prices allow them to sell large quantities to other dealers who are looking to replenish their store shelves.
How to find them
The first place I look is the "What's happening" section of the local newspaper or weekly entertainment guide. Fair and flea-market listings are also posted online and in antiques and collectibles trade publications. Big promoters, such as Renningers and Stella Show Management, post schedules on their websites for the various events that they organize around the country. Fairs and fleas in warm climates happen year-round; the typical season is early spring to late summer.
Treasure hunting tips for antiques fairs and flea markets
Get there early. The serious shoppers and antiques-store owners are the first ones through the gates, so consider your competition. If you are looking for something specific, such as a carved-wood mantel shelf, there may be just one.
Act fast. You really can't say "I'll think about it" and come back later. I've learned the hard way, returning an hour later to find that the cast-brass door hardware I coveted had been snatched up.
Beware of fly-by-nights. The best insurance against paying too much is to buy from established dealers. Ask how long she's been exhibiting at the fair. The good ones are always welcomed back by the organizers and return year after year.
See more: 15 Hidden-Gem Flea Markets
Stay focused. Make a list of the items you want, and keep your eyes peeled for just those items. It's easy to cast too wide a net and become overwhelmed when faced with hundreds of booths to look through.
Dress comfortably. I wear good walking shoes and prepare for both blazing sun and sudden downpours.
Plan how you'll get it home. Some fairs and fleas have a pack-and-ship booth, but most don't. If you buy something, it's up to you to haul it away. So don't forget where you parked the car! For large stuff like a pair of French doors, it's usually okay to pay in advance and ask the dealer to store the items for a few hours. Just get a receipt with the booth number and dealer's name so that you can go back and find it.