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Flea markets are great alternatives to retail stores for finding unique accessories. They differ from conventional retail stores in that it's your responsibility to successfully navigate the maze of stalls with a sharp eye and a keen shopping instinct. If you've never shopped at a flea market before, here are some things to consider:
1. Dress down. If you look too dressed up, I guarantee you'll pay more. A sweatshirt and comfortable walking shoes are appropriate attire. I once made the mistake of going to a flea market in my Sunday best. I certainly don't remember any bargains or savings from that outing! Also bring a hat, as too much sun can deplete your energy and concentration, not to mention giving you a sunburn.
2. Get there early. You know you've arrived too late if all you see is people walking out with lamps and picture frames. These, according to flea market specialists, are the two most popular items. When they're gone, you know the place has been picked over.
3. Take cash. Lots of single bills and nothing higher than a $20 bill will give you some bargaining power. I like to take $5 bills, which seem to be the most versatile. If I have a list of items to find, I usually take about $300. This doesn't mean I have to spend it, but it assures me that if I find a true treasure I can buy it.
4. Don't be fooled by booth appearances. A few things on a blanket will cost less than a fully arranged booth. The general rule is that the higher vendor merchandises, the more you'll end up paying, so shop carefully. Many of these booths are simply extensions of retail outlets. If that's the case, you might as well get the benefit of retail services and purchase the items in the store.
5. Make a list. Write down the accessories for which you're searching. This prevents impulse buying and makes sure you don't end up with something you didn't want or didn't need.
6. Bring plastic bags. Your old grocery bags w ill come in handy if a vendor should run out. If unused, the bags simply collapse into nothing.
7. Drive an appropriate vehicle. Flea-market shopping is usually cash-and-carry, and most vendors don't deliver. Consider borrowing a friend's truck or van if you don't have one and know you'll be looking for a large-sized item. Sometimes a vendor will let you pay in full for an item and pick it up later, but that makes me nervous, especially when I pay with cash.
Remember, the flea-market experience is about finding hidden treasures. The most valuable items are not those that you think will be valuable for resale. The really priceless things are the objects you personally love.
Text and images excerpted from the book Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Design, © 2000 by Discovery Communications, Inc. Used with permission.