My love affair with flea markets (particularly the Rose Bowl flea market) is Shakespearean in scale (although there's nothing tragic about it). I see stars when I find the right piece of furniture, and my heart grows wings when I purchase something truly unique at a discount. So you can imagine what happens when the two of those things intersect. It’s an emotional moment. But this giddy behavior tends to interfere with my bartering skills.
So when resident thrifting expert Geoffrey De Sousa, chief curator of online furniture consignment shop Previously Owned by a Gay Man, invited our team to join him at the Rose Bowl flea market, I accepted with glee. Given De Sousa’s background, it’s no surprise he has quite the eye for salvaging treasures (the efficient, fair, and fun way). So here are a few things I learned from the king of thrifting, along with his top flea market finds.
Go as early as possible! Check what time the flea market starts, and get there right as the gates are opening. This way you’ll be shopping with the dealers and other pros before the crowds pick through the best items.
Once you have a flea market of choice, try to go as often as possible. If you know the lay of the land, you’ll have a better idea of where your favorite vendors set up their stalls and can skip over the others to get the most out of your early arrival.
This tip contradicts the previous one, but it’s a great strategy if waking up at the crack of dawn is out of the question (I tend to land in this camp, no shame here). Arriving later can actually be an advantage because dealers are usually more willing to negotiate as the day winds down. This is especially true for bulkier items that can be difficult to pack up and transport, which is great, considering the lofty price tags of large pieces.
It’s you against the elements—and scarier, the other shoppers. Keeping this in mind, come prepared with light layers of clothing, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and plenty of cash. Most vendors accept debit and credit cards, but good-old cash money can warm the heart of even the most stubborn sellers. If you are in the process of redecorating, you should also bring a tape measure, floor plans (with dimensions), fabrics swatches, and paint samples. These items will keep you comfortable and ready to make a quick decision if there’s a competing buyer.
There’s no better feeling in the world than finding the perfect piece at a great price, which is why it’s equally as heartbreaking if your dream item is out of your budget. If you find yourself in the second scenario, don’t lose hope just yet. Sellers usually understand that negotiating is fair game at flea markets, but respect is key to doing so successfully. Be friendly, introduce yourself, and ask, “Is this price firm?” Follow up with, “What’s the best price you can offer me?” Keep in mind that the low-balling approach isn’t always the best tactic; starting off with an absurdly low price will ultimately just frustrate the seller.
This one is crucial: Make sure you’re prepared to transport the items you purchase. If you don’t have the muscle or the trunk space for that amazing 12-seat dining room table, you’ll be disappointed (and eating dinner on the floor until the flea market comes back to town). Vendors rarely offer shipping, but if you’re local to the area, they will usually allow you to arrange a pick-up.
Don’t forget to shop Geoffrey’s vintage finds along with other thrifty pieces below!
Do you plan on bringing this trusty survival guide with you when you hit the flea market this weekend? Let us know in the comment section.