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Sunday, August 2

Flea marketing...

I often get people asking me about how to "flea market" (a verb not a noun in this form).

I guess for people that don't grow up with going to flea markets (like I did) it really can be a foreign thing. I grew up in Los Angeles and one of the best flea markets (the Pasadena Rose Bowl) market was once a month- the second Sunday. I have been to flea markets around the world- London, Paris and to the famous Brimfield.
I started collecting objects at a young age and it is something that has always been apart of my life.

Today was a great day out- I admit I was a bit tired after driving back from Tahoe the night before- but I think that going for the hunt is kind of an addiction. I met up with Eddie Ross (former editor at House Beautiful and Martha Stewart and from Bravo's Top Design) visiting from New York with his boyfriend Jaithan- they are out in San Francisco for a week filming a new show for HGTV (I am sure that Eddie will have lot's up on his blog (one of my favorite diversions in the day)
I think that Eddie is my long lost east coast brother (since I am on only child)- as he loves to entertain and is always coming up with fabulous ideas on his blog! Eddie and I talked about how flea markets are so different on the west and east coasts. Things like an Ironstone platter can be expensive on the west coast but cheaper on the east. Eddie thought that more modern items were higher priced on the east than the west. We might have to come up with a new shopping service together to serve both coasts!

So here are some of my tips and thoughts on how to DO a flea market (with these details relating to the Alameda flea market just outside of San Francisco)

I will start off with WHAT TO WEAR! I will never forget the time shopping with a client a few years back who wore high heels and could hardly walk at the end of the day. This is not a fashion show kind of day (wear old clothes- if you are all dressed up- dealers might think that you have more money and might charge you more!) wear comfortable shoes- and I advise to dress in layers as it can be cold starting off and then be boiling hot at the end of the day. I have been to flea markets in the pouring rain and I have been on some of the hottest and coldest days. I personally get really sunburnt- so I put on a ton of sunblock on before arriving and carry some along in a tote bag.
I like to bring a big tote bag and put it across my shoulder- as I don't like to drag a cart along - or to hold things in my hands as it distracts me from my shopping focus.
I also carry a tape measure as well as a small note pad and pen with different dimensions of spaces in my house as well as clients houses. This way if I find something I can see if the measurements will work.
The iphone is a great invention- I can't tell you how many times I have been able to email a client or a friend and get an instant reply back to get a green light to purchase or not. For me this is a great tool!

So about arriving to the flea market.
I always get people asking me what time I get there and if I get there at 6am. No way! I never have- ever! It's a Sunday! It's a weekend! My normal time is arriving around 9:30. Leaving at 9am-grabbing a latte and driving over the bridge to Alameda. It only is $5 admission at that time as well- instead of $15 or more ( I can't even tell you what it is before- I know more- like I said- I have never gone earlier). People also ask me: "But if I don't get there at the crack of dawn won't I miss something?" Well, maybe you will, but for me my sleep is more important and I never have had an issue with the lack of finding things arriving later.

Now I also have a system for shopping as well- I personally like to start in the front first and then go back and forth up and down the aisles- but that is just me.
Some people say that starting in the back is the best- and some people like to start in the middle.
I would say that the secret to my success is to not go looking for anything in particular. With this- I mean- if you go on a mission to find a new chair or a lamp- then all you are doing is focusing on that item in your head and you might walk by something that you didn't even know that you needed! I go with an open mind and end up with some sort of treasure.
Most of the vendors don't really deliver items to your house either- so bring some rope along otherwise you have to be friends with someone with a pickup truck to help bail you out of your larger purchases (THANKS RICHARD!) There is a guy at the exit that you can pay to deliver (but that can add up there and your "deal of a piece" might end up costing more than you wanted with hiring someone to help).
I generally leave items in the booths that I purchased in and pick up when I am ready to go home (here is where your notepad in pen come in handy to write down the booth location). This way you can shop freely and not have to drag things around with you.

I also get the question about deals and bargaining.
I am all for getting a deal- but keep in mind that you don't want to insult a dealer selling something. If there is a price- then I normally like to ask: "What is your best price on this?"- looking for a little wiggle room. If you really are interested in something- I also really think it is how much you like something and if you are willing to pay what they want for it (the sellers are trying to make a living too). If it something you can't see living without- then you follow your heart! If you buy what you love- then you shouldn't have regrets. I tend to think that if you are purchasing a few items from the same dealer- then you might have a bit more wiggle room with the seller.
I hear from lots of people that many dealers are willing to give better prices at the end of the day. Yes- I am sure that they are- as they might not want to drag things home. I haven't ever stayed more than a few hours at a flea market- so I am not sure about this theory of flea market shopping.

I tend to bring cash and checks with me. Most of the dealers don't have credit card machines. There IS an ATM- but there is always a long line (something to slow me down from shopping). I have also seen the ATM be out of cash! Then what do you do?

"Isn't the flea market just filled with old dusty stuff?"
Well- there are old things- antiques- mid century pieces. If you are looking for vintage clothing or jewelry- old magazines or books- stuffed animals- table linens- records- garden furniture- really whatever you are looking for you are bound to find something. I love shopping at flea markets as there is something for everyone. Your tastes might not match what you find in every booth- but then again what you find might not be what the next person would be looking for either. One persons trash is another persons treasure! If you keep an open mind to what you are looking for- I think that you can be very successful. Also the flea market really isn't for everyone. It can be too much and not fun for some. I generally don't bring clients along as it can be such an overwhelming experience- but if they have a desire- I am more than willing to hunt with them for a morning!
Oh and there have been many visits when I didn't purchase a thing- and then months when I filled my car and every friends car that I knew! Each time is different. For me it is a tradition and a passion and I enjoy going with my friends every month. Last but not least- Flea marketing is the ultimate GREEN shopping experience. Try shopping at a flea market and help the earth out!


Brillante Home Decor said...

This post really excited me, I am a flea market and a garage sale's person. I would give up spending big money in a store to find a treasure in a yard sale for a few dollars. I was so succesful once to find for 50 dollars a French cache pot from 18th century from a famous ceramic factory. That was also the subject of my very first post on my blog.
And you are right Grant, it does help the earth when beautiful things go around instead of going to the dump.

Pigtown-Design said...

How cute are you and Eddie? VERY!!!!

Anonymous said...

You mentioned London, have you been to Camden Passage? Absolutely wonderful things plus the charm of the sellers

Ideezine said...


Thank You. This was a thoughtful post and I'm sure you have answered lots of questions for people.

I'm a flea market person as well and this concept has been around for years. Hopefully with is economy more people will get involved with the "thrill of the hunt". It's fun stuff.


Style Redux 2 said...

I have started going again to the Georgetown DC flea market and learned many tips from this post.

pve design said...

Great photo of you and Eddie and I would love to be wearing a sweater or a vest now - alas - it is so hot and I love finding things at thrift or flea markets. You and Eddie have such a "great" eye for spotting the most unusual and then giving them your twist! Your photos are amazing!

pve design said...

Great photo of you and Eddie and I would love to be wearing a sweater or a vest now - alas - it is so hot and I love finding things at thrift or flea markets. You and Eddie have such a "great" eye for spotting the most unusual and then giving them your twist! Your photos are amazing!

Alicia said...

Lordy Im always in my comfy sneakers & jeans. That is tooo funny.
I also have extra Whole Foods bags some plastic ones for wrapping around items & a hand wipes. There is a lot of dust.
Im with you about not searching I just wander through & whatever hits me I'm going for but I never give into temptation when its over priced & soo much is overpriced in stone.
After 15 years in antiques & then another 11 for myself I 've seen it all. I always tell people if you can walk away then its not ment to be. What is will come along.

Things That Inspire said...

Great timing on this post, as I am heading out to Scott's this weekend; I normally go on Thursday when the dealers are setting up, but I have the kids in tow today as school is still out, and I can't think of anything worse than exploring Scott's with 2 kids in tow!

Paloma {La Dolce Vita} said...

Great scouting tips, Grant! It looks like this market had some fantastic finds!

Scott Fazzini said...

What beautiful pictures! That adorable young girl who found the awesome bent wood chair is VERY lucky!

Jennifer said...

I bet you and Eddie (and Jaithan, too) were a hoot together! What fun!

Anonymous said...

Hi Grant!
So great meeting you at the flea last week! Jaithan and I just got home today! Two very busy weeks in Ca. So funny how Courtney and Jaithan went to Stanford to gether! Can't wait to do drinks when you are in NYC!

Soma Pradhan said...

I heart old things. Like love them with a passion that's truly abnormal... This post was great! I just discovered your blog and am loving it!


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