How to sift through treasures at a flea market

Patrons search for hidden treasures at the Randolph St. Market Festival last weekend. (Christian Ianniello / The DePaulia)
Patrons search for hidden treasures at the Randolph St. Market Festival last weekend. (Christian Ianniello / The DePaulia)

Summer is approaching, which means we are finally able to leave our igloos, throw on a pair of shorts and sunglasses, and do something besides watch Netflix. Chicago summers are famous for many things, especially the outdoor flea markets.

The Randolph St. Market Festival stretches over 8 acres with more than 250 indoor and outdoor mini-boutiques that showcase a variety of finds. Not only are tickets $3 online, or $5 at the gate for students, but guests can negotiate the price.

Here are some tips on how to get those sought-after low prices, based on speaking with professional flea market shoppers and vendors.

How to dress:

I always assumed that the girls dressed in chic sunglasses and heels were the professional flea marketers, but I learned that they were just the opposite. Mom Laura Fisher and daughter Alex have been attending this specific flea market for 5 years and they say it is all about being “loose and comfortable.”

Both of them were dressed in jeans and sneakers, following their own advice.

However, Alex said that “people can surprise you, especially at flea markets where they draw a lot of different people.”  So, the golden rule is to dress however is most comfortable for you, but remember it is 8 acres, something  my blistered feet learned the hard way.

How to determine if the price is right:

Tim Johnson and his son came to the market for the first time from Iowa. They frequent garage sales in Iowa and always make sure to bring a smartphone to check the price of what they are buying in comparison to other sellers.

“I go on eBay and see how much a used item that is similar to what I want to buy is priced at,” Johnson said.

If you do not do research on the item you are interested in, you may end up thinking you are getting a bargain and in reality you are getting ripped off.

When to go:

Linda Elbert  has been selling her stuff at flea markets for 20 years and has attended the Randolph St. Market since it first opened. According to Elbert, the early mornings are when the dealers shop. You are able to go early if you buy a $25 ticket.

“The early buy is for real serious collectors who own stores and want to get first dibs,” Elbert said.

But, it is not a bad idea to come, not as early as the special buyers, but right when doors open.

“Coming first, looking around, keeping your eyes on things and then coming back the last couple hours is a good trick” Elbert said. This also is a helpful technique so you do not spend all of your money right away.

Also, if you are looking for the best time to get deals, the last day is ideal.

“Some of the better things will be gone for the most part, unless they are over priced,” Elbert said. “Sometimes they are over priced to begin with and the last day you can get a good deal.”

When to let go:

Sometimes when you fall in love with an item you do not want to give up on bargaining or you give in. But, there is a time when you must walk away. “If you offer less and they don’t take it, walk away, and they usually will call you back, but if they don’t and you feel it is overpriced, just walk away,” Fischer said.

Alex Fisher had a different tactic.

“I ask them upfront how low can you go, and once they give me their lowest price I can decide if that’s low enough for me and if not give them a different offer or leave” she said.