Itâ€™s flea market season in Wisconsin. From Maxwell Street Days in Cedarburg to the Antique Flea Market in Elkhorn to the 7 Mile Fair in Caledonia, virtually every weekend you have a chance to indulge your inner picker and find a hidden gem in a junkyard.Â
So what are the secrets to a successful trip to the flea market? I asked the expert. Jeanine Burkhardt is the owner of Chippy Shabby, a vendor of vintage furniture, knick-knacks, accessories, pieces of architectural reclamation and pretty much anything that has a charming, timeworn patina.
A former L.A. interior designer, Burkhardt can comb a flea market like nobodyâ€™s business, and she has it down to a science.Â "There are bargains to be had out there," she said. "You have to have an eye and you have to be quick."Â
Here are Burkhardtâ€™s secrets to being a successful picker.Â
Be prepared.Â "A lot of those dealers donâ€™t take charge cards. I go to the bank the day before and get a lot of cash. I want to wear some really comfy shoes and sunscreen. Dress in layers because you get there early in the morning and then youâ€™ll want to change when it gets hotter. Bring some snacks â€“ they have all sorts of food lines there, but thatâ€™s just it: lines! When Iâ€™m on the hunt I donâ€™t want to spend time in a food line."Â
Have a vision. "Before I leave for a market, I see if there are certain things I want to add to my collection, and I write that down. If Iâ€™m looking for, say, a cute little cabinet in a spot I have, I want to stick with what Iâ€™ve envisioned. If I envision something white and chippy, I want to stick with that â€“ not get something blue or green. You can get overwhelmed and think, â€˜Oh, Iâ€™ll take it home and Iâ€™ll paint it.â€™ But if youâ€™re not a painter, itâ€™s not going to happen. Itâ€™s going to get shoved in the garage."Â
Know how to haggle. "Itâ€™s pretty common at the big markets. But thereâ€™s an etiquette to follow. Most dealers will mark an item with a little room to move. So a good rule is a 10-percent rule or just a bit less than 10 percent. Be gentle; use phrases like â€˜Whatâ€™s your best price?â€™ or â€˜Do you have room to move on this piece?â€™"Â
Do some recon work. "If you have a dealer you really like, find out where they are and visit their booth first. A lot of the dealers have blogs and will tell you where theyâ€™re going to be. I draw a map on my blog so my customers can find me. And a lot of fairgrounds will post maps on their websites so you can get your bearings."Â
Prep your car. "Have blankets, bungee cords and wet wipes. You donâ€™t think of it, but blankets help pad something if you found an unexpectedly fragile item, and bungees can secure something to the roof. I always carry wet wipes because the stuff gets really grimy."Â
Do a thorough inspection. "I look things over really good; I turn things over to see whatâ€™s underneath. If youâ€™re getting a dresser you want to make sure the drawers work, you want to make sure it wasnâ€™t sitting in water for years. Most dealers donâ€™t clean or repair their stuff â€“ the prices should reflect that. And remember â€“ are you really going to fix it if itâ€™s broken?"Â
Prices arenâ€™t always too good to be true. "Donâ€™t be suspicious. People might not know what they have, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder."Â
Go with your gut. "When you see it, buy it. I canâ€™t tell you how many people email me pictures of something after an event and I have to tell them itâ€™s been sold. Stuff moves fast, especially if youâ€™re at a busy market."Â
You can find love in unexpected places. "A lot of times when I get into a market the first thing I see is a cute little piece thatâ€™s dirt cheap and Iâ€™m thinking, â€˜I donâ€™t need another table, but itâ€™s so cool and the price is right.â€™ If you have an emotional attachment to something, youâ€™re always going to find a place for it somewhere in your house."
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