I have always loved old things. It started with my Nana’s collection of Nancy Drew novels from the 1930s (among my most prized possessions) and took on a life of its own when my great grandmother bequeathed me her scarves, gloves, and her art deco engagement ring from the ‘2os.
The antiques shop and flea market scene in San Francisco is pretty fabulous, though, learning how to spot an awesome deal or a worthwhile splurge is definitely a fine art. Learning how to vintage shop – and shop well – takes time. I’ve been combing the Alameda Market for more than a year now, and I finally think I’m developing an eye for vintage items that I love and that tell a story.
With the holidays coming up and the shopping frenzy starting, I thought it would be great to share my top five tips for successful antique market and vintage shopping:
1. Get there early – especially if you want furniture. Folks with their eye on the prize are typically those in need of something: a sofa, a chair, a table. If you are one of these people, get there as early as possible to maximize your chances of finding something amazing. After all, ’tis better to get up early and sniff out the table of your dreams than continue to eat on the floor or buy something crappy from IKEA.
2. Start at the back and work forward. Most people enter and immediately get distracted by the goods up front (look! shiny things!) while the vendors in the back wait for the crowd to trickle through. Personally, I head straight back to get first peek at the goods, and then work my way up to the front.
3. Bring more cash then you think you’ll need. It was only by sheer luck that I managed to snag my desk – a mint green, 1940s secretarial situation – for $40. Which was lucky, because it was all I had. Fancier markets have ATMs, but don’t count on that. I’ve seen the faces of the heartbroken and cash-strapped as they walk away from first edition books and limited edition prints because they were short a few bones. Don’t let yourself be one of them.
4. Know the lingo. Are you firm on this price? Can you come down five? Would you be willing to throw in the (additional small item you want real bad)? All of these phrases signal to a vendor that you know what you’re doing and you’re a savvy shopper. It’s a flea market – bargaining is half the fun! And if you don’t consider bargaining fun, then at least remember that asking for a price adjustment or a deal is expected. You’re not being rude. Don’t try this the next time you hit up J. Crew, but to ask for a 2-for-1 on those old Boy Scout manuals is A-OK.
5. Work on your eye. Don’t buy things that are damaged or only kind-of what you’re looking for. There is a lot of crap in the world. And amid that crap, your perfect mint julep cup/antique record player/limoges tea cup awaits. Don’t settle, and don’t buy something that is like what you want, but not exactly what you want. You will resent that fake limoges tea cup forever if you don’t love it.