Art of the Deal
The haute culture of flea-market finds
By Kristy Hoffman
I have a confession: I am addicted to the thrill of bargaining at the flea market. It all began while regularly attending the Cupertino flea market as a child, where I constantly went back to look for the next best toy. I have since moved on to more fashionable items. Whether I am hunting for a 1960s chiffon dress, brooches, vintage beaded cardigans, cowboy boots, Marc Jacobs shoes or sunglasses you name it, I have probably found it, bought it or fought over it at a flea market.
I went through a phase where I was addicted to vintage airline bags. The appeal of wearing one and vicariously living through the bag's history, wishfully hoping some swank airline stewardess from the '60s once owned it, is the reason I treasure them.
But I won't settle for a $45 Pan Am bag from a vintage store. After satiating my initial desire with a Japan Airline bag, I finally found the Pan Am one I had been longing for on the shoulder of a woman at the Santa Rosa Junior College flea market. I immediately mustered up the courage to ask her if it was for sale. As we flea market shoppers know, everything has a price. With empty pockets from buying other items, I had only 60 cents to offer for the bag. She sold it to me.
The art and skill of getting the better deal holds more value and esteem than paying for something at a fixed price. Flea markets, garage sales and estate sales always have room for negotiation; a department store doesn't. Flea markets have ongoing changes in stock, with something different every weekend, and with the rise and fall of customers, the prices fluctuate throughout the day. Flea market vendors are always willing to cut a deal. Plus, rummaging through goods at a flea market is ideal for a weekend ritual.
But first-time buyers beware: my innocent toy collection has since transformed into an overstuffed closet.
Tips for rummaging through North Bay flea markets:
Carry small bills. You can't say you want something for $7 if you are carrying a twenty. It is hard to negotiate if you are carrying large bills.
Buy in bulk. Generally, if you buy more than one item, the vendor will give you a better price.
Keep your car trunk empty and carry some bungee cords--you never know what you might find.
Dress casually. If you are wearing Chanel sunglasses or carrying a designer handbag, bargaining can get complicated if the vendor thinks you have lots of money to spend.
Be willing to accept that some dealers won't negotiate on their prices. It happens, and sometimes you just have to walk away.
Always try on clothing, shoes, hats, etc. There is nothing worse than buying something that doesn't fit.
It's always good to go with someone who is not the same size as you; it lowers the competition. It's bad enough you have to get there early and fight with others, but even worse if you are fighting with a friend.
If worse comes to worse and you get desperate, show them the money. Especially at closing time, if the item has not sold, vendors will want to get rid of it. It is less for them to pack up, so chances are they will accept your offer.
If the item is electronic, always plug it into an outlet before purchasing. I have bought a broken record player that the vendor assured me worked. Such items are nonreturnable.
Stay away from obviously stolen goods, even if the price is right; it's not ethical. Look for CDs without their original cases, for example. Remember your friend who got her CD storage case stolen out of her car? Where do you think it ended up?
Make friends with the vendors. Know their names. They are more likely to give you a deal if they know you come every week.
Name brands don't necessarily mean anything. Always check to see where the item is made, check the quality of the material and check the label's authenticity. There are many designer knockoffs, and unless you are familiar with them, be skeptical and act like you know exactly what it is you are buying. Displaying product knowledge shows the vendor that you are smarter than they anticipated.
Where to Go
Guerneville Flea Market. Safeway parking lot, 16405 River Road, Guerneville. Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 5pm.
Weinstein's Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market. Healdsburg. Three days a year, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. 707.578.7772.
Mrs. Midgley's Country Flea Market. Outdoor market with some covered areas. 2200 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. Open every Saturday and Sunday, from 6:30am to 4:30pm. 707.823.7874.
Napa-Vallejo Flea Market. Over 50 years of providing great deals. 303 Kelly Road off Route 29, Vallejo. Sundays, year-round, 5am to 5pm. Shopper parking, $2. 707.226.8862.
Antique Street Fair. Always the last Sundays in April and September. Make sure to mark Sept. 25 on your calendar this year. In downtown Petaluma. 707.763.7686.
Attic Treasure. Parking lot sale, always the weekend before Halloween. In addition to the once-a-year sale, the store contains lots of vintage clothing daily. 708 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 707.762.6998.
San Rafael Community Flea Market. Benefits People Living with HIV/AIDS. 29 Mary St., San Rafael. May 7, June 11, July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10, 8am to 2:30pm.
SRJC Flea Market. Bailey Field parking lot. The dates for the market are set in the beginning of each semester. We just missed the April 24 sale. Call SRJC's Office of Student Affairs from 10am to 4pm in the fall to find out when the next one is scheduled. 707.527.4424.
Forty and Eight Flea Market. Off Highway 12 on Maple Avenue, at the Veterans Memorial Building, Santa Rosa. One Sunday each month, May through September. 2005 dates: May 1, June 12, July 10, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18, 7am to 3pm. 707.522.9391.
Santa Rosa Senior Center Flea Market. Flea market occurs twice a year, in spring and fall. The abundance of vintage items is worth checking out. Held in the Senior Center parking lot, 704 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Saturday, May 7, from 9am to 3pm. 707.545.8608.
Sebastopol Flea Market. Offered by the Tri-School PTSA. Students are the sellers, giving them an opportunity to experience a business. Park Side School, 7450 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol. Saturday, May 14, 8:30am to 1:00pm.
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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.