How to Make Out Like a Bandit at the Flea Market
As much as I love to shop flea markets and thrift stores, I’m not a diehard. There are some people who go nearly every weekend and know the ins-and-outs like gamblers know their local casino. My designer friend Erica Reitman—whose home I recently photographed—is one of those people. So who better to ask for advice on how to make out like a bandit when shopping vintage and second-hand. Read below for Erica’s best tips for navigating the booths, in her own words.
Thrifting and flea-market-ing is a skill that definitely gets better the more you practice. If you want to dip your toe in the world of thrifting, your best bet is to do lots of browsing before you do any buying. You'll quickly get a feel for prices as well as quality.
I also always like to pull up eBay if I'm unsure about a price or an item. With a quick search you can find out whether or not something is actually worth the price. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Rose Bowl and saw a fab gold flatware set that was on sale for $100. I looked up the manufacturer on the back of a spoon and then pulled it up on eBay: the same set was only $65, so I decided to pass. You also have to remember, however, that thrifting is a very subjective process. I mean, there are probably very few people on the planet that will excitedly pull out their wallet for a wooden Basset Hound head... I just happen to be one of them. So follow your gut.
Some people may scoff at a granny cart, but I sort of feel like it's amateur hour to go to the flea without one—so I always have mine with me. I take my flea market shopping pretty seriously, and am usually there by 7 a.m. at the latest. If you can swing getting there a little earlier, you will totally miss all the crowds/Bugaboos/slow tourists, and it will be cooler, as the sun is not as high in the sky yet.
My granny cart has saved me a bunch of times, like when I bought my brass bar cart for $15 (didn't even bother trying to negotiate on that one) or my giant leather jaguar for $35. I'm not sure why, but I have a major thing for animals and I can't stop buying them.
Other essentials? Don’t forget to bring sunblock, cash, wipes, and a laser measuring tape.
After moving from New York to L.A. a couple of years ago, I had no idea where to even start with my thrift store plan of attack, so the first thing I did was tons of research. I looked on Yelp, Foursquare, in forums, on Craigslist, and even on Instagram. Every time I find a great place, I keep track of it on a running list that I've saved in Evernote where I include, name, location, notes about why it's awesome, and a list of things I've purchased there so I can keep track of pricing trends—I take this thrift stuff seriously.
My favorite thrift store by far, is a gem I found in Van Nuys. The key to this one though, is consistency. If you want to score the good deals, you have to basically go at least once a week. Head here for my top tips for finding awesome thrift stores in your area.
If you’re overwhelmed by flea markets, try shopping a more edited sale. The Kelly Wearstler Warehouse Sale has quickly become one of my favorite warehouse sales in L.A., and there have been two in the last six months or so. She’s already curated the mix of stuff, so you are basically shopping a collection of already awesome things. I make sure to get there early and have scored the most phenomenal pieces like my bamboo lamp ($45), white wooden sculpture ($65), green acrylic tray, and my insane new king-sized leather bed (only $200). Each time I've been completely shocked by how good the prices are.
Find more art and design inspiration on Nicole Cohen's blog, Sketch42.
What are your best tips for shopping vintage and second-hand items at a flea market, thrift store, or the like? Tell us in the comments below.