amy azzaritobrimfieldfleamarkets

flea market tips from the pros!

by Amy Azzarito

top left image (brimfield sign) via selectism

Summer on the East Coast means one thing to me – the beginning of flea market season! Dealers have been collecting goods all winter long and travel from all over the country to bring their finds to Brimfield. This was my third visit to Brimfield and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on it   (Check out what we shelled out for this year). Here are some tips from the design*sponge team:

  • Arrive early –  This was the first time that I made a real effort to get to the fields at Brimfield when they opened and what a difference! We saw the best stuff bounce around the market – with a price increase each it landed in a new booth! The same hold true for any market – it really is true about the early bird.
  • If you see something you love but miss out out, set up an eBay Favorite Search. Last year I missed an amazing bird house, but hunted on eBay and found it at half the price!
  • Bring cash! Most dealers don’t take credit cards. In the weeks leading up to Brimfield, I did some spring cleaning and sold books and unwanted furniture on Craigslist. I cleaned house and had cash for Brimfield!

Grace and I thought it would be fun to get some general flea market tips from folks who frequent flea markets on a regular basis. So we collected tips from some of our favorite flea market shoppers: Russell Whitmore from Erie Basin, Eddie Ross, Pam Zsori, of Ink & Peat, Christiane Lemieux, of DwellStudio, Katy Elliot and Mike Perry. Got a great tip of your own? Leave it in the comments! –amy a.

CLICK HERE for flea market tips from the pros after the jump!

Russell Whitmore owns Erie Basin, a Red Hook, Brooklyn antique store that specializes in 19th and early 20th century jewelry and objects. Check out the Erie Basin blog for Russsell’s latest finds!

  • Remain calm.  Buying at flea markets requires focus, and it can be difficult to concentrate in the whirlwind of people and stuff.  Just relax and settle into a quiet corner where no one else is looking.  Sometimes the best stuff is hiding.
  • Be friendly.  A lot of people that sell at flea markets do it for fun, and their things are often from personal collections.  Take the time to chat and try to be respectful of their things, and considerate when bargaining.
  • Don’t buy from mean people.  If you’re like me, you’ll always regret a purchase that was pried from the hands of some old mean-sprited, racist dealer (of which there seem to be too many).  A big part of the joy in buying old things is the experience in acquiring them.

Eddie Ross has worked everywhere from Martha Stewart to Food Network. In 2008, after an appearance on season two of Bravo’s Top Design, Eddie left the publishing world to start a lifestyle company, with partner Jaithan Kochar. Together, the two lead flea market trips around the country.

  • Brass is Back: Look past the tarnish. More often than not, it’s easily fixed by super fine wool and brass polish. Personally, I love my brass polished, but some prefer a patina. A lot of times at flea markets, you can find single “onsie” candlesticksCreative Candles in great colors, like hot pink, watermelon or lime green.
  • Lighting: More a constant than a trend. Flea markets are fantastic places to buy great quality lighting (sconces, chandeliers). Just because it doesn’t have a plug, don’t worry about it. Missing crystals? Easily replaced. Rewiring a fixture is easier (and less expensive) than you think. My favorite place is Shandell’s (here in Millerton) but another option is to head to Home Depot for a rewiring kit. If you find a great fixture for $100 at a flea market, invest another $100 into it, and you’ll still come out way ahead. Good lighting is an investment. High-end antique dealers on the web sell lighting for a lot of money, but you can find antique pieces with great character, then freshen them up yourself by rewiring them, adding new shades, trims, etc. One more thing: If you find wall sconces you love that plug in, let the cord hang, then paint it the same color as your wall.
  • Find new uses for old things, especially furniture: Dressers as sideboards, armoires as bathroom storage, a sofa as seating at a dining room table, outdoor furniture indoors (you make the rules!), little dressers with drop-sinks for powder rooms, antique rugs with holes to upholster ottomans. All wood isn’t created equal, especially when it’s veneer from reproductions. Paint it, repurpose it, and you’ll love it all over again!

people generally don’t want for next-to-nothing prices. Buy them, collect a whole bunch at varying heights, then group them together on a mantle, dining table or sideboard. Update them with tapers from

Pam Zsori, of Ink & Peat, is a floral and home designer in Portland, Oregon.

  • Pricing can be complicated when it comes to antiques. If you are looking for something specific, try to do a little research on ebay or other antique sites to get an idea of the range of prices to expect.  A knowledgeable bargainer is always respected. Decide what you want to pay before asking and then ask the seller if that is their “best price“. Unlike retail shopping, in most case they will go lower than the marked price.
  • The early bird really does get the worm! Try to be at the shows as soon as they open. You will be competing with savvy dealers from all over the world – go the same time they do – when it opens. In the case of Brimfield some shows open at daybreak or 6 am. You can sleep when you get home!
  • Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers. You may have a 30-40 degree temperature range while shopping. Since you will be out there at dawn, it can be chilly but you can always “peel” off layers as the day heats up. I think we calculated one year walking over 12 miles each day – wear tennies!
  • As I mentioned on my blog – Fried Dough does not fall into a food group! Bring snacks like granola bars, gorp, and water – you will be having too much fun shopping to stay on a proper eating schedule!

Christiane Lemieux, the founder and creative director of DwellStudio.
I love Brimfield but boy has it changed!  The advent of Ebay has changed the flea market experience because now the sellers do the shows and sell on Ebay so the pricing structure and assortment is different.  I hear from the dealers that Estate Sales are the new Flea Markets because that is where the deals are…but for us working folk who love the hunt and don’t do this professionally – Brimfield is still the best big East Coast show.
  • Know your price – Ebay can work in your favor!  If you are hunting for something – say a particular chair….this year I was looking for a Kofod Larsen Chair and I know that I could get it for $200 on Ebay but wanted to pay much less – when the dealers gave me crazy prices at Brimfield – I scoffed- I could get that for way less on Ebay and then they really started to negotiate.
  • Bring a tape measure –  Something that looks right in a field may be way too big or not have the right proportion for your own space. There is nothing worse than finding something you love only to get it home and find that it does not fit through the door.
  • Look in the cardboard boxes – It is easy to get pulled in by the dealers with merchandised booths. Their inventory is well displayed and clean but I say – always rummage through the cardboard boxes.  For every pulled together vendor at the flea market, there is one who has boxes full of random stuff on the ground. It is in these boxes where the real finds are – like the two dollar Rosenthal Studio Line vase.  My favorite flea market find ever was a complete coffee and tea service of platinum plated china that I found in Brussels at the famed Marche Du Grand Sablon – the service was in the bottom of a very dirty box that had been pulled from someone’s attic. I got the whole thing for $80 dollars!  One tea cup alone would cost twice that at a china shop!

Katy Elliot, an avid flea market shopper, writes a daily lifestyle blog about renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

  • Don’t let a dealer rush you. Inspect every item thoroughly. Pick it up, flip it over, sit in it – don’t get distracted by the dealer and pay attention to every detail of its construction.
  • Before you go make a wish list. Research prices and characteristics of the item on ebay, craigslist, auction sites and blogs.
  • Get to know your woods. Purchase solid hardwood pieces made of maple, cherry, pine, and oak. Stay away from veneered pieces.

We spotted one of our favorite ‘makers’ Mike Perry at Brimfield with photographer Anna Wolf. First timers at Brimfield, here are their tips!

From Mike:

  • When you see Mary Kate Olsen, make sure not to say hi.
  • Don’t eat at restaurants that yelp says has 4 stars but no one is in the restaurant. Especially after driving around for ages and seeing nothing.
  • Wish you were the cute Japanese couple that was walking around more prepared for Brimfield then you will ever be for anything.
  • Don’t argue about buying something with your partner.
  • If you are a big company buying everything up, don’t make your own sticker and mark all your goods.

From Anna:

  • Bring a granny cart, you’ll need it.
  • Bring (and wear) sunblock.
  • Check the weather before you pack.
  • And most importantly, something which I didn’t do, bring handy wipes. The hand washing opportunities are scarce. And with all the delicious kettle corn – not so great with dirty hands.

Suggested For You


  • These are great tips! I always think it is good to carry cash in small denominations. That way when you bargain the price on an item down to $5, you don’t have to pay with a $20 bill. It can also be beneficial to stay late. Sometimes in the last hours of a flea, you can get the best deals. Many vendors will decide they don’t want to pack their goods home, so you may get a better deal.

  • Is there a listing online somewhere of great flea markets? I live in Virginia and have not really found any nearby. How do you find them?

    • hi charis

      if you do a quick google search you’ll find a ton of listings online- i’ll have to check those VA ones out, too for the next time i go home :)


  • I was just at the Elkhorn Flea Market yesterday in Wisconsin.

    If you like it pick it up. Too many times I have been standing there admiring something, thinking if I should get it, and some quick shopper picks it up and buys it!

    Also, most flea markets have an early buyer fee. If you really want the good stuff, the fee is worth it.

    • Agree!!!!! Pick it up while you are pondering…or at least put a finger on it…I too have lost out by not “claiming”.!!

  • My advice is
    :Bring a backpack! It’s way easier to lug things around.

    :Haggle, the dealers love and expect it

    :wear comfortable shoes, your back will thank you AND the sloppier you look sometimes the lower the prices go, you don’t look like you’re on a buying trip from Polo

    :Bring Rain gear especially boots just in case

    :pack light. bring a water bottle, cash, and hand sanitizer, NOTHING ELSE unless you can leave it in the car.

    Here are my personal brimfield finds


  • Christiane is right– know the market prices and know how much you’re willing to pay. I’ve found that vendors know the value of what they have and I’ve found that offering what you know is a fair price works. Lowballing doesn’t.

    I’ve also found -at least here in Italy- that being a foreigner is an automatic exorbitant surplus. I had one woman ask me $350 for a silver plated spoon that the plating had visibly worn (when other vendors in the same market were selling the same pieces for $30), so I tell my husband ahead of time what we are going for and how much it costs and when I see something I want I give him the exact amount, hide and tell him to go get it for me. HAHAH works every time.

  • I love everyone’s advice! They’re all very useful for a amateur treasure-hunter like me. But my favorite are Mike Perry’s tips – HAHAHA!

  • My advice? Check the weather for the dates of the show, especially if the show is running for more than one day. I attended Brimfield last week on Wednesday, which was terribly cold and rainy, but was not crowded in the least bit. You may suffer a little more on a rainy, cold day rather than a sunny one, but you will have time to browse the booths without being pushed/shoved! Just bundle up and put on those wellies! Also, if you are attending with other bargain hunters, make sure you’re looking for similar items. If not, then split up! I unfortunately only got to see 1/4 of the show due to my in-laws scavenging for furniture, while I was looking for jewelry. Hope this helps!

  • any thoughts on a similar type of flea market on the west coast? Rose Bowl doesn’t cut it anymore. Long Beach and PCC are pretty good but nothing on the scale of Brimfield.

  • Shannon, Aberfoyle is less than an hour from Toronto (at the Guelph exit on the 401). I promise it’s worth the visit!

  • So any recommendations on roughly how much some sellers will come down in price? Is it better to say “what’s your best price” or suggest what you would pay? If it’s suggesting what you’d pay, how low (%) should you go?! I’ve been wanting to go to Brimfield for ages and it might just work out this year – yah! Thx for all the tips!

    • hi traci!
      i prefer to just ask ‘what’s your best price?’ – if i don’t like it, i might say something like ‘that’s your best price?’ or maybe make it a round number so if they say it’s 35, i might say ‘would you take 30’ or if you’re interested in more than one thing, you can ask if there’s a break for both item – i usually try not to lowball and just throw out a number – this is their job after all – so if i can’t afford it, i move on. also, if it’s a great price, i don’t dicker, just snap it up!
      happy bargaining!
      -amy a.

  • Ha – silly me, I seem to have already missed this year. Don’t they usually have it on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day??!! Drats, maybe I’ll make July.

  • Oh yeah i have one tip:
    Be sure to check fleamarkets in the SMALLER cities, i always go to the Dutch Queensdaymarket in a smaller, less popular Dutch city. They have great stuff, the other buyers are mostly ‘normal people’ and the sellers often don’t know what their goods are worth :-)

  • There is a great Flea market In Bethlehem,Ct open year round.
    Located in senic northwest Ct.
    Bethlehem Indoor Heated Flea Market
    37 Thomson Rd
    open;every Sat & Sun 9-5 year round

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.