Shopping our local (or any) flea market is one of our very favorite things to do. We're constantly on the lookout for items for our design clients and our shop. Not only is it part of our job (read: Shop Scouted) but it's a serious hobby too! We're talking a burning passion people. There's a certain thrill that comes with knowing you've scored a crazy good deal or found something truly unique. Stumbling upon a pair of Milo Baughman nightstands, Paul McCobb chairs, Gainey planters, Turkish rugs, African textiles, Danish Modern anything and crazy cool pieces of art by the known and the unknowns - it's a rush we live for! We're walking you through a day in the life at one of the most famous flea markets in the country, the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California and we're giving you some of our favorite how-to-flea tips along the way!
Plan ahead, especially if you're in it for the long haul. We recommend checking for a map of the venue online before entering so you know the sections you want to hit - for gigantic venues like the Rose Bowl this can be imperative! (For Rose Bowl, enter and hang a left to get to the vintage goods. Continue on and over the bridges for vintage clothing).
Dress comfortably and stay hydrated. You'll want something you can move around in. Can you bend over? Even get down on the ground to look under something if you needed to? Can you walk in those shoes all day - really? Light layers (and a hat!) are a good option, especially for early birds as it may start off cool and warm up to death valley temps (ahem, SoCal) as the day progresses. Start your morning with a coffee for that caffeine boost if you need it, but be sure to stay hydrated with lots of water throughout the day.
Bring a list of items you're looking for and any measurements you may need. We also like the idea of having pictures stored to your phone of any areas you know you are looking for (example: if you're looking for a vintage rug, have a photo of the room you want to place it in so you can reference it for style, color and scale).
Many vendors (at least those selling furniture) will have a tape measure available for use but it's nice to have your own just in case. A notepad and pen also come in handy or you can use the notes app on your phone (in which case, make sure you are fully charged!).
Bring a large tote bag and/or a cart to carry your goods. You'll want to avoid making multiple trips back to your car throughout the day.
Bring cash!! Avoid multiple withdrawal fees or hitting a withdrawal daily limit at the ATM. Some vendors may accept payment with debit/credit card or even a check, so always ask.
The early bird gets the worm, for real! It's so cliché but true. Get a head start on the crowds and be one of the first through the door - you'll be amongst the designers, shop owners, collectors and dealers who are there to do some serious shopping. Some flea markets charge an increased fare for early entry but it can be worth the added cost to have the first picks of the day. Showing up early also allows you the opportunity for a quick run through so you can get an idea (mental notes or photos) of the vendors you really want to focus on first.
Make a day out of it and stick around until almost closing time when vendors get ready to pack up their goods and call it a day. Most vendors want to avoid loading all their stuff back into their trucks and hauling it home - so they are more willing to bargain as the day comes to an end. While you'll find the best inventory early, you'll get the best deals near the end of the day.
Make it a Family (or friend) Affair
Bring the family, your friends or both! An extra set of eyes and hands can be a good thing. We like having someone to bounce ideas off of or get a second (and third) opinion from. "Do I really need this massive globe??" "Will this go with the rest of my house?" If you've brought your littles, let them get involved! Show them what you're looking for and see what they think is cool. You never know, they could be onto the next big design trend!
Look for Labels
Check inside drawers or under table tops and chairs. If you're unfamiliar with vintage designers or artists do a quick search on Google and see what you return. Ask questions. Test it out. Sit on it (we're talking chairs, couches and benches here). Pick it up, feel it. Is it heavy or lightweight? Is it solid wood or veneer? These things could determine the value and the quality. When deciding how much you feel comfortable paying for an item, remember to factor in any money you may have to spend on refinishing or reupholstering.
Don't be Afraid to Bargain
It is a flea market and vendors are expecting you to try and bargain with them. Just keep it friendly and be respectful. Start by inquiring as to what they are "asking" for a piece. From there decide if it's anywhere close to your budget or what you're willing to spend. Offer what you think is a fair price and see what they say. Worst case scenario - you get a no. Best case - you've just bargained yourself into a deal! Keep in mind that vendors will generally give you a better deal when buying in bulk or if you've bought from them on a previous occasion.
Make a Connection
This one is so fun and something worth remembering for sure! Whether it be with a fellow shopper, a new favorite vendor or a furry friend: try to make a connection with someone. A smile and a hello (or even a hug if they're willing) can go a long way and might just make your day and theirs a little more special!
*Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market is the second Sunday of every month, come rain or shine.
Regular admission: $9/person (9am)
Express admission: $12/person (8am)
Early admission: $15/person (7am)
VIP admission: $20/person (5am)
KIDS UNDER 12 FREE