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4 flea markets where you can dig for treasure this weekend

The popular Flea Market at Eastern Market takes place on Sundays year-round. (Diverse Markets Management)

Combing through a flea market is much like searching for buried treasure: Often, the pursuit will be fruitless. But when it’s good, it’s really good — like the simple silver band you take home for $10, only to discover it’s made of white gold and worth, oh, 10 times more.

Around the region, spots such as the Georgetown and Arlington Civitan flea markets offer a buffet of curiosities: There’s furniture and jewelry; books and vinyl records; bikes and repurposed bike wheels. Haggling is encouraged — think of the listed prices as a starting point — and bring cash, because not all vendors accept credit cards. Here are four spots to visit in search of your next prized find.

Georgetown Flea Market

Tim Stewart shows up to Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown by 5:45 a.m. each Sunday. His prep the day before the Georgetown Flea Market is “insanity” — choosing which of his collectibles to bring, loading them into a U-Haul — and the event itself is long and tiring, a good workout. “The antique business has been in my blood a long time,” Stewart says. “I’ve only been setting up as a vendor since the springtime, but my mom and dad took me [to Georgetown] all the time as a kid.”

Michael Sussman launched the outdoor market in 1972, and these days, a few dozen vendors are typically present. Stewart sells such collectibles as antique glass and china from the late 1800s, plus whatever is trending, such as vintage Pyrex and farmhouse decor. On a recent hot Sunday — 85 degrees at 8 a.m. — another vendor, Yilmaz Erdogdu, said the weather was no deterrent; he’s been setting up at the flea market every Sunday for more than 20 years. “It’s a job,” he said, pointing out a few of his favorite current offerings: a silver Coke cooler, circa 1940s, with a $450 price tag; a 1920s cash register he hoped to get $175 or $200 for.

There’s “no food, no drink, just collectibles,” Erdogdu notes, but there are plenty of options for making an afternoon of it nearby. After shopping, head across the street to Cafe Divan for Turkish kebabs, or grab a smoked salmon sandwich and deviled eggs at Breadsoda.

Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., open year-round. 1819 35th St. NW.

The Flea Market at Eastern Market

The pointed white tent tops are visible from blocks away — a beacon inviting explorers to one of the city’s most well-known hunting grounds for unique finds. Every Sunday, 50 to 60 vendors set up at the street-fair-like Flea Market at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

“We have a mix of antique and vintage dealers that sell collectible items, we have handmade crafts and art, we have sellers who bring items from around the world and we have some made-in-D.C.-only vendors,” says Michael Berman, executive director of Diverse Markets Management, which manages the Sunday Flea Market, in addition to other area markets. (The Sunday Flea Market is part of the broader Eastern Market space that includes the indoor market, farmers market and the arts and crafts market.) Berman, an artist, started as a vendor at the Flea Market at Eastern Market, which opened in 1983.

Permanent stands specialize in maps and mid-20th century ads; altered antiques such as tin ceiling mirrors; rare books and vintage lantern slides. Over the years, a few of the vendors have had such success that they’ve opened local storefronts — for example, Vigilante Coffee, Antiochia Home and Berman’s Caos on F. One of the flea market’s most popular stands is Alexa’s Empanadas, which serves Peruvian-style baked empanadas and churros that Berman describes as “the best in the world.” If you require additional fuel — because, you know, shopping is basically exercise — have an iced banana latte and heirloom tomato toast at Little Pearl, or a mimosa and brioche French toast at Barrel.

Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., open year-round. 7th and C streets SW.

Arlington Civitan Open Air Market

If the Arlington Civitan Flea Market occupied just one floor of the sprawling parking garage it calls home, it’d be perfectly nice. But no — it’s three, plus two wings. And it’s intense. The first Saturday of the month, more than 100 vendors from six states and the District pour into the Interstate 66 parking garage that’s adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School for a vintage-heavy extravaganza. “It’s basically 125 garage sales in one building,” says Leandra Finder, president of the Arlington chapter of Civitan International, which aims to help people with developmental disabilities.

Each event attracts 2,000 to 3,000 shoppers, and vendors start setting up on Friday evening, often spending the night in the garage. Though it officially opens at 7 a.m., Finder says customers have shown up at midnight and 4 a.m. to get a head start. Expect to do a lot of sorting here: There’s a huge, eclectic mix of things, some junk, some gems. Finder recalls a giant telephone booth; glassware ranging from Depression-era to “a set from Walmart;” commercial artwork to a painting thrown together “in the garage last week.” And then there was the “very realistic” sculpture that wasn’t wearing any clothes. Since the flea market is a family-friendly affair, organizers suggested dressing it; an hour after it had been covered up with a hula skirt and bikini top, it sold.

Finder recommends coming prepared with a roller cart or bag to transport your finds, plus comfortable shoes for the concrete floors. Recover from all that garage-walking at nearby Northside Social, a cozy hangout with caffeinated beverages, a solid brunch selection and generously sized pastries.

First Saturday of the month from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., April through November. Next market takes place Aug. 3. 15th and Quincy streets, Arlington.


Leave your digging gear at home: There’s no excavating the rare worthy find out of a pile of junk here. MarketSW, now in its third season and held every other Friday evening at the Southwest Waterfront, is billed as “an evening of arts, food, flea and fun.” But it’s decidedly light on the “flea.” The festival, next held on Aug. 9, feels like a funky arts fair. “It’s a lot of fun — it’s like the neighborhood hangout for the Southwest community,” says Berman, whose Diverse Markets Management oversees the event.

Expect four or five food trucks, such as Peruvian Brothers and Galanga, and live music; there’s a beer garden and plenty of shaded seating. And, of course, good shopping: The rotating selection of vendors — 25 per event — has included JolieSoleil Boutique (sustainable jewelry, accessories and clothes) and Hometown Go (pop culture artwork).

“There are all kinds of things for sale by makers around D.C.,” says Lauren Friedman, who’s sold her pottery at two of this year’s markets and is scheduled to return for two more. “Even if you’ve already come to one of them, it’ll likely be a whole new experience the next time.”

Those who aren’t satiated by the food trucks can duck into nearby Masala Art for an Indian dinner: Try the lamb curry with cloves and cinnamon, followed by cardamom ice cream or gulab jamun.

Every other Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. through Oct. 18. Next market takes place on Aug. 9. Fourth and M streets SW.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the relationship between the Sunday Flea Market and the larger Eastern Market space. This version has been updated.