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10 Expert Antique Fair Shopping Tips

Shopping Tips

I love shopping at antique fairs for so many reasons!  First, there’s the thrill of the hunt.  You just never know what you’re going to find!  Some of my most prized possessions were purchased at the antique fair.  Then there’s the people.  To me, it’s so much fun to be surrounded by others who enjoy antiques as much as I do, even if we like different things.  There’s just a sense of camaraderie at antique shows.  And last but not least, there’s the excitement that comes from feeling like you scored a great deal in terms of price!

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In all honesty, if you haven’t been to an antique fair before, it can be a little overwhelming.  But if you’re interested in antiques {or vintage items in general} it’s worth a trip!  Here are 10 tips that I’ve learned over time that will help you enjoy the day and find some great pieces.



1. Dress Appropriately

Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress in layers.  It’s no fun shopping if you’re too hot or too cold, so plan ahead. The temperature varies greatly between the early morning opening and the afternoon departure, so you’ll need to bring lightweight clothing items that will work for both extremes.

2. Know How You’ll Transport Items

Always bring a big bag, backpack, or even a shopping cart so that you can take your purchases with you as you go without constantly having to go back to your car.  You’ll also want to have plastic and/or blankets in your car.  Many items from antique fairs are dirty and dusty and you won’t want to place them directly on your upholstery.

3. Don’t Wear Expensive Items

If you want a better chance at scoring a great deal, leave your jewelry, expensive purses/wallets, and designer clothes at home!!  Don’t advertise your money or you’ll likely find that quoted prices are a bit higher for you than they might be for others.

4. Bring Cash

While you’ll find that some vendors will accept credit cards, many are cash only.  ATM machines are often available, but of course, most banks limit how much you can withdraw from an ATM in a given day.  Be sure to bring a mix of bills in the event that the vendor doesn’t have proper change.  Also, having cash on hand helps you keep track of exactly how much you are spending and is better for overall budgeting.

5.  Know When to Arrive

Here’s the thing about timing at antique shows.  Items are limited and the most popular things will be snatched up first thing in the morning {often by retailers shopping for store inventory}.  If you are looking for something in particular or feel you don’t want to miss out, get there early!  My local antique fair opens at 6:00 AM and there is a line formed at the gate by 5:30!

On the other hand, if you are looking for really good deals, try going later in the day.  When vendors are packing up to leave, they are often more willing to bargain on the bigger items {and are often more generous with their prices} because they’d rather make the sale than take the inventory back home.

5. Bring a Flashlight

The first time I showed up early for Alameda Point, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would still be dark!  Thankfully, I had a flashlight on my phone and was able to make my way around.  The next time, I came prepared with multiple flashlights, which made all the difference.  Another option that I wish I could bring myself to do is the headlamp route!  It really is difficult to shop while carrying a flashlight and Hubby wears a headlamp and I must say, it’s really the best option, although perhaps not the most attractive.  I did buy a baseball cap/headlamp from Restoration Hardware for my dad for Christmas and in hindsight, I wish I had bought one for myself!

6. Bring Your Shopping Arsenal

In addition to a flashlight, you’ll want to bring sunscreen, hand wipes and hand sanitizer.  Touching lots of dusty, dirty stuff takes its toll on your hands and eventually, you’ll want to clean them, especially if you want to have a snack.  And speaking of snacks, come prepared with food and water.  Many shows have food vendors available, but bringing your own is a great way to limit expenses {and watch your waistline}!

7. Come Prepared to Bargain

Almost all vendors expect to bargain with buyers – it’s part of the game!  Instead of asking what they’ll take for a particular item, though, make them an offer instead.  Make sure your offer is one you are comfortable paying but that at the same time, isn’t insulting to the vendor.  If you insult them, they may not sell to you no matter what the price just based on principle alone!

If you’ve already negotiated a price for one item and then decide to buy multiple, ask if they’ll take a discounted amount for the larger quantity.  The worst thing that can happen is they’ll say “no”!  But again, make sure your offer isn’t insulting.

8. Know the Difference Location Makes

In my experience, vendors near the front gate often charge a bit higher prices than those located further in the middle or in the back.  Why?  Because they get the most foot traffic!  In fact, first thing in the morning, vendors from the front have been known to shop from vendors in the back, buy an item, mark up the price, and then resell it in their booth!  Just something to keep in mind when you’re shopping and considering prices.

9.  Keep Your Phone Handy

My phone is my lifesaver when I’m shopping!  Not only do I need it to make a quick call to a friend to tell them about a find, or to call Hubby when we get separated, but it’s also handy for looking up comparable pricing.  I frequently jump onto Etsy while I’m shopping to verify whether I’m getting a good deal.  Sometimes, I also Google items to help authenticate them.  And lastly, if you see an item you like but aren’t quite sure if you want to buy it, write down the booth number and item so that you can reference it later.  You might think that you’ll be able to remember, but after a few hundred booths and several thousand items, your brain will be too overwhelmed and the notes will come in handy.

10. Talk to the Vendors

The best way to find what you’re looking for is to get to know the vendors!  If you come across a booth that has items similar to what you want, ask if they have what you’re looking for.  Many vendors don’t unpack their trucks all at one time and might have what you want still tucked away somewhere {or even back at their shop}.  If not, they might know which vendor at the show has what you want and will direct you.



Happy Shopping!



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