Tips for Haggling and Navigating Local Flea Markets

Irwin Weiner ASID - Flea markets are irresistible to me. The concept of finding home decorating treasures amidst trash is compelling. It's even better if you can find a great deal - "the steal" - and drive home with something absolutely amazing that you purchased for a song. While visiting my new grandson Oliver James Joyce in Minneapolis, I found some great tips for flea markets in the inflight magazine (an excellent one, at that, with a focus on design: for a free subscription, go to Complimentary Cambria Style Magazine); here were some of my favorite tips from their Navigating the Flea Market article.
  1. Bring some helpful supplies with you whenever you "flea." Cash is an essential, naturally. But bring a measuring tape or retractable steel tape so you can size up potential purchases. I oftentimes know that a client will need a specific size console, dresser, sofa, or painting to accommodate a certain dimension within their decorated space; without measuring, there's always an element of doubt (so eliminate it!). Also bring a cell phone. I snap photos of an object and email them with a description to my clients; they're usually eager to okay a purchase on the spot. Courtesy tip: Always ask a vendor if it's alright to take a photo before you take it.
  2. It's a worthy goal to practice civility and friendliness at your local flea market. Create a dialogue with a vendor if you're truly interested in a certain piece. Ask questions about how they found a certain object, how they started out in business, and the like. The Cambria Style article quoted Manhattan vintage shopper Lauren Linton: "Ideally, you both want to leave a transaction feeling like something positive happened." And isn't that great advice for the workplace, your family life, and living in general?
  3. No price on an item? Ask for the vendor's "best price," then be quiet and let them do all the talking. Many times the price will surprise you because it will be lower than you expected, so never be the first one to offer a dollar amount. 
  4. Rule of thumb: 15% off the marked price of any object is a very good deal, but sometimes an item can be had for up to 40% off. It may depend on the time of day, for instance; as the flea winds down into its near-closing hours, you might be able to strike better bargains from vendors who are eager to sell items, rather than having to pack them up again. But if you see a very reasonable price ("the steal"), don't try to haggle. It all goes back to being a nice, civil person - let the vendor earn a living and know when to quit trying to shave a few dollars off an already reasonable purchase.
  5. Many flea markets are part of social media. Friend them on Facebook and get the latest scoops from vendors on new vendors, hours, and specials. While you're online, go to for a vibrant online community of flea marketers, crafter, junkers, and antique hounds. Also absolutely go to the Tag Sell It website (or use the app) to find fleas in all states, as well as maps, hours, vendors, and weekly garage and tag sales in your area (you can list yours there, too!).

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