Flea market shopping 101

By Columbus Alive
From the July 12, 2012 edition

Quick, where can one buy framed NASCAR driver portraits, a $25 retro working transistor radio and a $6.99 VHS of “Riding in Cars with Boys”?

At the drive-in, of course.

The outdoor movie theater South Drive-In’s flea market is just one of many markets held outside throughout Columbus summers. They are harbingers of covetable stuff (so … much … inexpensive … jewelry …) and crap, new deals and decrepit and dirty duds. Part of the allure of flea market shopping is that you never know what you’re going to find.

Shopping these markets well is a skill. Just ask Rachael Ranney, host of Buildipedia.com’s DIY video series {Re}habitat, in which she shows how to construct cool home pieces, often made from flea market finds.

“When you do fall in love with a funky piece and it’s time to get down to brass tacks, don’t be afraid to wheel and deal,” Ranney said.

Ask where the item came from and how old it is, she suggested.

“Most dealers are willing to work with you on their marked prices and will generally drop the price up to 20 percent for the right person,” Ranney said. “When I’m trying to get a good deal, I usually ask the vendor if they would consider [a particular price] for this piece or ‘What’s your best price?’”

As for when to go, gut instinct might say to go early so as to snatch up the best stuff, but Ranney disagrees.

“If you’re looking for something specific or something that is hot or trending, an early arrival is the way to go,” she said. “I personally wait until the final day of a flea market before making my rounds. … I find that most sellers are more willing to make great deals at the end of the show.”

What to bring

Ranney offered some flea market shopping survival tips. Here’s what to bring in addition to your bargaining A-game.

Comfortable shoes. “Broken-in, beat-up shoes are an absolute necessity for your survival at the market.”

A big bag. “To tote your small finds around as you peruse the stands.”

Cash. “Be sure to bring small bills. All of the vendors are wheeling and dealing all day long.

You can more effectively bargain if you have the correct change. Many dealers will accept personal checks for larger items. Just make sure that you have your driver’s license handy.”

Wet wipes. “Flea marketing can be a dirty business, and so can the stuff that you’ll be handling. A few wet wipes tucked into your purse could be a lifesaver.”

A camera. “I always bring a camera to take photos of the things that inspire me or make me giggle. I often come across elaborate displays, silly folk pieces and artisan furniture at the markets that inspire my work. It’s also a good way to note where a cool item is located if you want to walk around and think about it for a while before making a purchase.”

Photos by Todd Yarrington