Amy's Flea Market Tips
When to arrive. There are two schools of thought: Arrive as early as possible and get the best merchandise at a premium price, or arrive late and get good merchandise at clearance prices but fewer choices. At the end of the day, dealers don't want to haul items home, particularly big pieces of furniture, and may be more willing to take a lower offer.
Cash is king! Always carry small bills, and nothing bigger than a 20. Dealers prefer cash and will often give you a lower price than if you were paying by check. Etiquette tip: If you haggle for a lower price, give them the exact amount. Don't bargain down from $20 to $15 and then give them a $20 bill. It's considered rude.
Dress appropriately. Always wear comfortable shoes because you'll be doing a lot of walking. If you're an early shopper, dress in layers that can be shed as the day gets warmer. Consider carrying a shoulder or messenger bag, which are the easiest to carry and keep your hands free for shopping. Bring only what you need (ID, cash, checkbook, cellphone, credit card, tape measure, pen and paper).
Always ask the magic question: "Is that your best price?" Nine times out of 10 it is not, and the dealer will go down 10 to 20 percent. But be prepared to walk away if he doesn't meet your envisioned price.
Buy in bulk. A dealer is more likely to give a discount if you buy a set of something or several pieces.
Always bring measurements of the spaces you have to fill. You probably won't have the convenience of going home and coming back, so know exactly what size space you have and what size piece you need for it.
Do your homework. Learn some of the ways that you can spot an original from a reproduction and some of the characteristics of a truly old piece. For instance, dovetailed joinery in drawers, square nails and wide boards are common in old pieces.
You bought it. Now what? If you want to make the investment, a rolling cart is great for small-to-medium items. That pine footstool you just bought might seem light now, but it will become heavy and burdensome if you have to lug it around all day. If you buy something really large, ask whether you can come back for it at the end of the day.
Be ready to haul it home. If you are planning a trip to buy big pieces, it's best to bring or rent the biggest car, truck or SUV you can. Have rope to tie things down, blankets to cover things so they don't get banged up in transit, a hand truck if there isn't one available and a tarp to cover anything that might be exposed to the elements. And bring enough money for tips. There might be a few folks on staff willing to help you load up, and it's appropriate to tip them.
Most of all, have fun! A flea market is as much about the experience as it is about finding the perfect farm table. There are no mistakes when it comes to flea markets (if what you bought doesn't work in one room, move it to another one, paint it, refinish it or sell it). That's the beauty of it all. So shop with abandon. Be fearless. Have fun. And don't forget the kettle corn!