Friday, August 14, 2015

Midwest Flea Markets and Tips for Shopping

Last week, 
I posted a question
on the PH Facebook page
asking for some ideas or topics 
for potential posts.

Kelly S.H. had a great request!

She asked me to write a post 
on local flea markets
here in the Chicagoland area.

Here are some of my favorite 
midwest markets:

Randolph Street Antique Market
Vintage Garage Chicago
(both are Chicago city markets)

Kane County Flea Market
Sandwich Antique Market
Grayslake Flea Market
(these are rural country markets)

And if you are in the midwest --- don't miss 
Elkhorn Antique Market 
 just over the border in Wisconsin

My mother and grandmother
both had antique shops 
when I was little
so I have been attending flea markets
for too many years to mention.

So that being said,
here are my personal 
Tips for Flea Marketing

1. Make a shopping list of the things you want to buy.
There is so much to see, staying focused is pertinent to
any successful shopping day. 
If you are looking for furniture pieces, have your dimension requirements or restrictions with you so you don't buy something that will not fit your space. No returns at a flea market!

2. Go early! Pay the extra $20-25 for the Early Bird Entry and shop with the serious buyers and dealers. It is SO WORTH IT if you want to get THE best items. Early birds really DO get the best worms.
Just be ready to buy. If you see something you LOVE and you can afford the price -- buy it! Otherwise, you will regret it.  If you love it, chances are, others will love it too so unless you want to risk the chance of losing this item ---  GO for it. 
Pay for it up front and arrange to pick it up later in the day.

Note:  Make the most of your time when you are an early bird buyer. Often times dealers will get chatty but you need to keep moving -- you paid to shop early before the crowds are allowed in so be mindful of your time.

My usual plan of attack is to zip through each aisle studying the booths quickly. If something major doesn't catch my eye, I keep moving trying to cover as much territory as I can so I don't miss anything fabulous.
You can always go back later and spend time scouring the individual booths but the big, cool stuff doesn't last long in those first few minutes or hours of the sale.

3. Dress for the hunt. Do yourself a favor -- do not wear flashy jewelry or designer clothing/handbags when looking for great finds at a flea market. Dealers are not going to give you a good deal on anything if you are sporting a Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton handbag.
Dress super casual and comfortably. Layer if you need to, pack sunscreen if it's hot, and a change of shoes is not a bad idea either if you know you are going to be doing a lot of walking.

3. Come prepared. Bring a protein bar or snack, a bottle of water, tape measure, magnifying glass, mini notebook, sunglasses or a baseball cap, lots of cash, and a checkbook. 

There are usually ATM machines on site, but have a Plan B, if there isn't one. (Check online before you go -- just to be sure of your finance options. Sometimes ATM machines run out of cash or are out of order!)

I always take my extra large light-weight canvas bag with a small zippered bag inside it to hold my cash, checkbook, lipstick, etc. 
It's a good idea to pack some tissue paper, bubble wrap or newspaper in there as well to wrap small items that you might purchase. 

If it's a large flea market and I know I will be parked far away from the fields of vendors, I will take my wheeled wire grocery cart -- much like this one. That way I can load up many small items I purchase and can keep shopping much longer before making a run to the car/truck to unload.

Courtesy of Brimfield Flea Market

4. Map it out. Have a game plan before you arrive.
You may want to print out a map of the market before you get there so you know where you are going when you arrive.

I personally like to start with the outside vendors first who usually have better prices. The inside dealers have paid a premium for their booth so their prices will reflect this. The finer antiques will most likely be inside -- so if that is what you are after, then you might want to start there first. 

5. Big pieces first. If you are looking for furniture, look for these pieces first and go back for the accessories or the "smalls" later.

Be a savvy buyer. Check for quality. Make sure wooden pieces are solid, heavy and well made. Look for great shapes or forms. Consider painting pieces. Know what a wooden piece costs to have it refinished, if required. 

If you are buying upholstered pieces, consider the cost to reupholster knowing fabric, labor costs and delivery up front. In our area, I know to consider a sofa costs about $100 per foot to reupholster, plus the cost of the fabric and delivery.
It can add up quickly so be sure it is worth the cost of the frame.

6. Take notes! My iPhone is invaluable at a flea market.I take a photo of everything I buy that is not something I can carry. I pay for the item and ask the dealer to hold it until I can come back to retrieve it. I then write the booth number down in my phone or in a small notebook and that way I won't forget any purchase. Keep track of your purchases.

7. Buy what you love. I have told this to clients so many times through the years. If you see something that speaks to you and you LOVE it, if you can afford the price --- buy it! 
No regrets. I have walked away from some amazing items only to return later to find them long gone.

8. Be cautious. Take the time to really LOOK at an item. Make sure that there are not any stains, that the item has not been broken and repaired, that the item is "as described" and not misrepresented. Nothing worse than paying too much for something only to find out later that it was not what you bargained for.

9. Don't be afraid to negotiate. Dealers expect you to ask for a better price. On most items they have built this into their prices. Don't be embarrassed. Just say, "Is this your best price?" or "do you think you could come down on this price?"
It never hurts to ask! Just smile, be friendly, and respectful. Most dealers are happy to help you out.

10. Don't be shy. Be a picker. Be a digger.  Get in there and dig in. Lift skirts on tables and see what's in that booth! Some of the best bargains do not make it to the front of the booths or displays or up onto a table. Be willing to dig for your treasures ... you just never know what you will find.

11. Are best prices what you seek? Wait until the last hours of a show to get your best bargains --- either arrive late or wait around. Dealers are tired and not excited to pack up their stuff and haul it home at the end of a sale, so this is when you can swoop in and get some excellent buys. The merchandise may be picked over at this point, but if low prices are what you seek --- the end of a sale is your best bet.

12. Make friends with your favorite dealers. Get their information, take their business cards. Keep in touch. Sellers remember their good customers and good customers usually get the biggest discounts. 
Find out if they have a retail shop you might want to seek out.
If they have the same "eye" for the stuff you love --- chances are you will want to shop their store too. 
(I have dealers who hide things for me under their table skirts because they know I will want them! Personal shoppers are GOOD! Develop a network. It's all good.)

Hope this little list will help you in your searches!


GRC_Ltd said...

Great post!! I haven't made a Midwest trek in a while, and I've found some of my favorite things in Chicaho and environs, and you've got me motivated.

Karena Albert said...

What excellent advice Alison, very, very helpful!!Thank you!
The Arts by Karena
Artist Nicoletta Belletti

Rose L said...

I found this very informative! I had been told to try to negotiate and it has actually worked! I used to be afraid to even attempt it before. All they can do is say NO! Looks like there are many flea markets where you live! Here in Oregon they are few and far between. Wish there were more.

Fairhope Supply Co. said...

We don't have any giant markets like this where I live. I've always wanted to go to one! I'll hang on to your advice and see what I can find.

- Leslie Anne

At Rivercrest Cottage said...

so grateful for this info. I have a daughter in the Naperville area and we've been to the Kane County Flea, but never the others. I also have been out to Morris IL for the Three Hens Flea (I think that's the name) and enjoyed the town. Wondering if you might find time to talk about good towns for shopping such as Naperville. I know one great shop next to the Starbucks, but I'm sure I'm missing some other great ones.

Karen said...

Even though I'm way, far away from your lovely area, it's fun to have these tips when hitting the flea markets or antique shows. One of the things I especially admire about your home are the "smalls", the accessories that are the icing on the cake. I'm sure you found some of these treasures at antique fairs and markets.
I'm so happy you're posting...I absolutely love your style and always enjoy hearing from you.

Kathy Steinlicht said...

I am happy you are posting. The way I figure you have enough info in your heart and head not to mention gorgeous home, to keep me interested. I too have been on the "hunt" since childhood but these are great tips ,some I never would of thought of! Thank-you, Kathy

Sarah said...

Great tips, Alison. I'm making notes of the markets in and around Chicago just in case I ever get that way. You are a serious shopper and have an excellent eye. ;-)

Shirley@Housepitality Designs said...

These are amazing tips Alison!...I love the one about searching for the larger items first..great tip!!

Shirley@Housepitality Designs said...

These are amazing tips Alison!...I love the one about searching for the larger items first..great tip!!

Kelly Deal said...

Great post Alison! I LOVE Kane and Grayslake, but I've never made it to sandwich or Elkhorn. I always tell my hubby that if he likes something, he better buy it now, but he's the one that always says "I'll wait, maybe they'll come down in price later." We go back and it's gone! I agree, if you like it buy it now, because more then likely it won't be there we you go back! Have a great weekend!

Liz@ Infuse With Liz said...

Wow what an excellent post. I'm a greenhorn when it comes to flea markets. You pointed out a lot of very sensible information- and I appreciate the extra tid-bits of advice!

Pinehurst Farm said...

Great post! I do all of this as well. Flea markets are so much fun! I also take moist wipes with me. Your hands can get so dirty.

Pat Freymuth said...

There used to be two big flea markets nearby. One is closed now, but the other is still operating. It's been a long time since we've been. We used to go every weekend. We heard about a new one over the weekend, we are going to try to go to. It is in a huge building.

Enjoyed this post so much!

Pinky at Designs by Pinky said...

Thanks so much for these great tips, Alison! We don't have alot of flea markets around here but I am going to try to search some out. Hope you are having a good summer!!! Miss you!