5 Things Not to Say (or Do) at the Flea Market

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Flea markets are filled with curiosities, and I'm not just talking about the stuff for sale. Over the years I've witnessed a lot of strange behaviors as people navigate booths looking for bargains. There's something about flea market culture (cash-based transactions? secondhand goods? informal setting?) that seemingly gives people permission to act in ways they wouldn't dream of elsewhere, such as...

  1. Saying "This Stuff is All Junk" within Earshot: Yes, to some it might be junk, but it’s also time and money for the vendors. Shoppers are dealing with folks that do the work themselves, not summer hires who have no connection to (or perhaps love for) what they are selling. These are almost always the same people who also dug through the barns, drove the hundreds of miles, and cleaned the items shoppers now hold in their hands so it's great when potential buyers value their time, along with the item, instead of shrugging and saying that it's crap.
  2. Saying "$5? Are You Kidding Me?" While Bargaining: Bargaining at most markets is expected and, in some cases, encouraged. When you are serious about buying an item, the protocol is to ask “would you take $XX instead of $XX?” instead and see what happens. If the sellers answer is "the price is firm," or "$XX is my best price," that should be respected. If it's not what you hoped, walk away: if it's truly not their lowest price, they'll let you know as you try to leave their booth. (The only exception to this rule is if you buy multiple items. In my mind, it’s then fair to ask for a slight discount when batching items together.) Lastly, it's the worst when shoppers engage in a pricing battle, just for the sport of it, then walk away no matter what the final result — it's a waste of everyone's time and energy.
  3. Plowing Through Like a Bull in a China Shop: Shoppers need to watch their large bags, backpacks and/or jackets. While they are chatting with their companions, their belongings might be leveling small cities, or at least some small porcelain item on the table behind them. And, if something gets broken, it's good karma to offer to pay for it. Hopefully, it wasn't expensive and won't be a big deal.
  4. Asking "Do You Have Change for a $100?": It's tough for sellers to give up all their change for a big bill, like a $100, especially first thing in the morning. Small bills are always appreciated and, in many cases, absolutely necessary.
  5. Horning in on Deals: If someone is asking about an item, it’s in their “possession” and not okay for other shoppers to run over and pick it up while they are awaiting a response. The only thing to do when in this situation is rum your fingers while they decide, and if they pass on it and move on, swoop in and clutch your newfound love. (In the meantime, it's smart to feign nonchalance and stay close, but not “too” close. The minute that other person senses your longing, the greater the chance they will buy it. I call this the “frenzy effect” — it’s a close cousin of the hive mentality — when people think others approve, they are more likely to find it appealing themselves.)
Flea-market-lovers, what else would you add to this list?

(Image credits: Janel Laban)

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Main, Shopping, Vintage

When Dabney's not writing around here, she's digging through other people's attics for fun and interesting stuff, or running around with her bloodhound Friday. Originally from the East Coast, she's still shocked to find herself living in Missouri.

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