Pro Tips for Scoring Big at the Flea Market

It’s springand that means … flea market season! There are biggies (like Brimfield in early May) but –if you’re not up for traveling orfighting the crowds—local options abound. The point is to get outside, see some cool stuff and, of course, snag some amazing deals which you can then brag about on Instagram.

My personal advice? Closed toe shoes. I visited Brimfield for the first time last year and the gravel and dust did not make for great flip-flop terrain. Here are other tricks to keep in mind:


Don’t forget your granny cart! It comes in handy for transporting all your amazing finds. (Photo credit: Apartment Therapy)


If you’re planning to spend a few hours at a market, make sure you have the basics:

  • Cash in small denominations

  • A few bottles of water

  • Sunscreen

  • Protein bars or some snack (Flea market food tends to be pricey…and fried. If you’re at Brimfield, however, you have my permission to get a doughnut from Faddy’s because they are amazing.)

  • Comfy shoes (or mud boots). Ladies, I also recommend a backpack or cross-body bag over a shoulder strap … which, after a few hours of walking around, feels like a torture device.

  • Purell or hand wipes (digging for hidden treasures in old cardboard boxes will leave your hands kind of yucky).

  •  A “granny” cartDealers will often let you pick up stuff at the end of the day, but you’ll still need to get it to your car.

  • To avoid carrying a bulky tape measure, stylist and interior designer Joanne Palmisano swears by bringing a sewing measuring tape. “It’s lightweight and easy to stuff in a pocket,” she explains. “Every ounce counts!”

  • She also suggests bringing a tiny notebook to write down dealers’  names, booth numbers and other info. “A lot of times they have online sites or stores as well,” she notes. “If you love their style, it’s good to keep up with them.” Another thing to keep in the notebook: A list of what you’re looking for and measurements of your space, if applicable.

  • “Do a little research if you can and get the lay of the land with online maps,” adds Palmisano, author of Salvage Secrets: Transforming Reclaimed Materials Into Design Concepts and Salvage Secrets Design & Décor. “And if you’re walking with a friend, set up a meeting spot in advance, in case there’s no cell service.” Another thing to research: prices (on eBay, etc.) for any specific items you might want to buy (like a 1940s Florence Knoll credenza, for example) so you know whether you’re getting a fair price.


Flea market pro Joanne Palmisano checks out the goods. (Photo credit: Susan Teare)


Get there early … or don’t Some folks swear by getting to a market at dawn for the best deals; some say you should get there late, when dealers are looking to get rid of stuff. Palmisano says, basically, don’t stress about the time. “Dealers are always restocking, so something new (or should I say old) is almost always fresh in the booths.”

Practice proper etiquette Ask before you take photos of anything in a booth. Yes, you can haggle for goodies that cost more than, say, $5 but don’t ask the dealer how much they paid for the item. “There is so much more involved than just the price they paid,” says Palmisano. “They have to pay for a booth, drive there, set up, stay for days and much more, so the price is all relative.” 

(Not sure how to haggle? Check out #11 here, a sample dialogue from HGTV host and flea market pro Emily Henderson. Then practice!) On the other hand, a smart (and fun) question to ask is: Do you know the story behind this piece? Notes Palmisano: “Then, you’re not only buying a product but its history as well.”


The Rose Bowl flea market is one of the country’s best. (Photo credit: : @justinablakeney on Instagram)

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Look Beyond the Pretty Propping The prospect of hunting around through piles of stuff is (after a while) exhausting. That’s why I tend to get drawn into the airy booths that are so well propped, clean, and organized, they look like pop-up shops. But not only are the prices typically higher in those booths, they’re often not where the real gems are.  “For every pulled-together vendor at the flea market, there is one who has boxes full of random stuff on the ground,” says Christiane Lemieux of DwellStudio told DesignSponge.  “It is in these boxes where the real finds are – like the $2 Rosenthal Studio Line vase.”

Go Big First Henderson recommends looking for “bigs” like furniture first (because they go the fastest). The second sweep is for “smalls” like accessories, lighting and artwork. “Don’t dilly dally looking at earrings at 7am when you are there for a new coffee table,” she says. “Race around. Fast. Then go slow for the smalls.”

Look underneath Buying furniture? Look at how it’s made, says Palmisano. “You need to look underneath,” she says. “Can you see if there is a name on it? Is it stapled together or is it dovetail? Quality furniture is really the way to go. Stuff that is not well-put together will not last very long. No matter the price, is it worth it?”


A trove of vintage signs at Brimfield. (Photo credit: DIY Network)


Pull the trigger If you see something you absolutely love and the price is right, get it. Right then. Things move fast at flea markets!

Don’t buy just to buy On the other hand, don’t buy something just because you came a long way. I’ve made many a regrettable flea market purchase because I got “flea market fever” and felt like I needed to come home with stuff. “Really think about the pieces, and if it fits all your criteria (everyone’s is different) then get it. If not, then pass on it,” advises Palmisano. “ I know it’s tough, but sometimes, I just go saying I’ll spend $20 on a piece of jewelry or a pillow and then I take the pressure off myself. Of course, if I see more, I’ll get it, but if I don’t I’m okay with a small token of the amazing day!”

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