Summer Antique Shopping with Smarts & In Comfort

If you prepare correctly, you can have a thoroughly enjoyable summer season at outdoor antique shows, such as the Burlington (Ky.) Antique Show, just outside of Cincinnati.

Summer is my favorite time of year for a couple of reasons: 1) the weather is warm (I am not a cold weather person); and 2) the outdoor antique and collectible shopping season is in full swing. There are garage sales on just about every street, outdoor flea markets are filled to capacity with vendors and the very best in outdoor antique shows cover acres of land.

So how do I comfortably navigate the neighborhood garage sales, 100 flea market stalls, and acres of antique shows and still have the energy to attend a cookout at the end of a busy shopping day? Let me fill you in on a few tips and tricks I have picked up over the past 30-plus years.

A few of the necessities are sunscreen, comfortable shoes, a small cooler filled with bottles of water, a couple of granola or protein bars and a folding shopping cart. Oh, and cash!

Get up and out there early; the early shopper finds the good stuff. If I am going out to garage sales for the day I check the newspaper and Craig’s List to plot somewhat of a course. You will run across unadvertised sales along the way, be sure to at least do a drive-by to see if anything catches your eye. At the neighborhood sales, park at one end of the street, don’t forget to grab your folding cart, and work your way up one side of the street and down the other side. I keep a couple of boxes in the trunk of my car so that I can unload my cart. Move throughout the neighborhood in this manner and you will find some real treasures.

BONUS TIP: Old neighborhoods generally have more collectible items. New subdivisions usually have young families and this is where you will find baby items, clothing and white elephant wedding gifts.

I love outdoor flea markets, whether it is a small venue at the drive-in theater on a Saturday morning or the large, multi-acre venue. The difference between an outdoor flea market and outdoor antique show is at the antique show everything will be unpacked, clean, nicely displayed and the merchandise is either an antique, collectible or memorabilia. At the outdoor flea market you will find just about anything and everything, the merchandise is not always neatly displayed, clean or even completely unpacked from boxes. I have found some of my best items buried deep in a box at flea markets.

If I am going to be out in the heat and dirt all day, I add a few items to my survival kit; wet wipes and a wide brim straw hat. Most outdoor events will have plenty of food vendors. This is also where your rolling shopping cart really comes in handy. I don’t take my everyday purse, either. I have a small shoulder bag that will hold my money, cell phone and driver’s license with a strap long enough to go across my chest. Put the cooler and wet wipes in the shopping cart and off we go.

When traveling to a show or flea market, you need to bring packing materials and boxes in order to safely pack your finds—like this table, lamp or figure—so that they can make the trip back home without getting broken.

Also, when traveling to a show or flea market, you need to bring packing materials and boxes in order to safely pack your finds so that they can make the trip back home without getting broken.

Now that you’re outfitted, it’s on to the hunt. Don’t just look at the items on display; glance under the tables and around the immediate area to see if you can spot any boxes with items in them. Before you dive in, ask the vendor if it is okay to dig through the boxes. Keep your eyes peeled, I have spied amazing merchandise sitting in the back of pick-up trucks and tucked under piles of old magazines and records. If you are on the hunt for something in particular always ask; you never know what someone has tucked away.

If you are traveling any distance to a weekend flea market or antique show, be sure to get a hotel reservation in advance. You probably aren’t the only one coming in from out of town to attend the event. Get out and shop for a few hours, but be sure to leave some time to visit the local antique shops. Saturday is your best bet for finding shops open, especially in small towns, as some stores are closed on Sunday and Monday. You can then get up early the next morning and go back out to the event.

There is nothing wrong or insulting about price haggling at any of these shopping venues. If you see an item or have a pile of goodies you’ve picked out, make a reasonable offer to the seller—reasonable being the keyword here. You may be pleasantly surprised. People have garage sales to get rid of excess clutter and most people are more than willing to accept a reasonable price, especially if they are going to get rid of several items at once.

There is an art to haggling on prices. You have to have cash, as this just doesn’t work if you are going to use a debit or charge card, and most people don’t want a check. Tally up the asking price on your items and make your first offer at 30-percent off the marked total. If the seller accepts this you are good to go, if they don’t accept your offer hopefully they will come back with a counter offer. If not, ask what they will take. A good haggle is when you can get a 15-percent discount. Don’t be upset or offended if you don’t get a price break. Some people just aren’t going to give anyone a discount. If you really want to pay less and don’t mind running the risk of your item(s) getting sold, you can always check back later and see if the seller is ready to come down a little on the price.

A few words of wisdom, though: The best time to buy an antique or collectible is when you see it.

Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.


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