Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Fun: Flea Markets

(photo courtesy of Plum Water Cottage)

Every fourth Saturday of the month, the Nashville State Fair Grounds has a massive flea market.  I've actually only visited one time - when I first moved to Nashville 8 years ago.  I didn't walk away empty handed though!  I purchased a fantastic cedar lined chest for $75!  It's huge, perfectly restored, and has served many different purposes over the past 8 years.

I really enjoy a good flea market or yard sale to find those "hard to come by" vintage, retro, and one-of-a-kind items that help make a party unique and fun, but there are a few tips to remember before heading out.

1.  Know what you're looking for!
I can't emphasise how important this is.  Most people are not a fan of flea markets because it's simply overwhelming to take it all in.  I totally get that!  You walk into this huge warehouse of a building and it's not like they put all the glassware in one area.  It's booth after booth of a hodge-podge of items, and even though so many of those things may be a total gold mine, you pass them up because you don't even notice them in the midst of all the other stuff surrounding them.  Just a few of the fun things on my list for this weekend: mason jars (variety of shapes, sizes, colors), demitase spoons, cordial glasses, vintage canned goods (empty, of course...but with vintage labels), milk glass, old bottles, cake plates, etc.  Also, if you need something for a specific space, be sure to bring measurements!!

2.  Know how much you should pay.
This is sometimes easier said than done, but you should have an idea of what a bargain really is before you end up with something old that cost you more than it should.  A perfect example of this was the time that I purchased the cedar chest.  I wasn't sure if $75 was a good deal or if I could go to a furniture store and pay the same price (I was really young, okay? :)).  I called my mom, knowing she had a cedar chest and asked if she had a rough idea of what a decent price would be, and she (amazingly) remembered paying $150 for theirs when they first got married!  That's all I needed to know in order to hand over my cash to the seller!

3.  Set a budget before you leave.
Flea markets are full of great deals, but just because it's a great deal doesn't mean you should spend the money!  Know your budget before you leave and promise yourself you won't go over.  It's even a good idea just to bring cash and leave your wallet at home so you're not even tempted.

4.  Don't be afraid to barter.
You know a good deal when you see one, so if it's a fair price, leave it well enough alone and be satisfied with the steal you're getting. BUT, if it's a great item with a pricetag that's a little higher than you'd like to pay, it never hurts to ask.  The worst they can say is "no".  I've heard that there's a 20% margin, but I'm sure that varies from vendor to vendor.  Whatever you do, be fair.  Don't ask for diamonds with only pennies in your pocket. 

5.  Get there early or take a risk and get there late!
You have two options - either get there first thing in the morning so the best deals are not picked over, OR, get there late and risk the possibility that the vendors will be leaving and want as little to haul back as possible and will therefore give you a good deal if you'll just take it off of their hands.  Best selection: early. Best Deals: late. 

6.  Use your imagination!
This is a tough one for a lot of people, but it's the best thing you can do when walking into a flea market!  You might see an old hat box that has a cool exterior finish and think, "I don't wear hats, I wouldn't use that, but it sure is pretty!", but take that hat box, flip it upside down and you could have a really cool cake stand for a dessert spread!  An old wooden flower box with multiple dividers?  Now a perfect dish for candy, nuts or toppings (with a clean, interior liner, of course).  If you find something that really captures your eye, try to think outside the box of other functions it could be used for beyond what it was created to be.

I'd love to see your greatest flea market find!  If you have a story (or even better, a picture!), send me an email and any tips you'd like to share!

Happy Shopping!!


  1. Oh gosh, I love going to flea markets and estate sales and thing and I so agree with you. Especially the parts about setting a budget and asking people to do better. So important.

    I've almost never had anyone refuse a reasonable offer and I also set a budget. I guess its possible to find the deal of the century - but that would be a once in a lifetime thing and if you dont set a budget you can spend a fortune constantly and end up with a houseful!


  2. Absolutely agree, Tracy! I went to a flea market this past weekend and walked away spending less than $60 (which I consider a success since I purchased 5 items!). I think the biggest mistake people make is not feeling like they can barter. I even overheard one of the vendors saying "An $80 offer when I'm asking $120 is what I consider reasonable. A $20 offer for that same item...now that's just rude and insulting." Couldn't have said it better myself :).