Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping

Shopping for fun vintage finds is a great way to add character to your home. With these easy tips for flea market and antique shopping, you may just find something special that you didn’t even know you needed! I call it, “The thrill of the hunt!”

When I was younger, my parents used to spend a lot of their free time at auctions, flea markets, and antique shops.

My mom had a lot of vintage finds decorating her house, and was often on the lookout for some special piece that she was trying to track down.

Recently, my dad was telling me about how he and my mom used to take weekend trips just leisurely driving from small Iowa town, to small Iowa town and browsing through local antique shops.

And, when they wintered in Texas after they retired, how one of their favorite things to do was get a cup of coffee and browse the local flea markets held every Saturday.

Back then, I remember wondering why they wanted all this “old stuff”. I just didn’t get it.

Fast forward 25 or 30 years, and I think I have slowly become my parents. Isn’t it funny how that happens, sometimes without us even realizing it?

Now, my husband and I enjoy doing the exact same thing.

One of our favorite ways to spend a day is browsing the crowded aisles of an antique store, sipping coffee, holding hands, and reminiscing about things that remind us of our childhoods.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- Old doll
I had this exact same doll, Mrs. Beasley, when I was really young. 😆

We have even taken some of our own weekend trips primarily dedicated to antique shopping. You can read about our recent trip to Kansas City’s West Bottoms HERE. It’s truly an antique shopper’s dream come true.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- antique bed frames
On our KC trip, I was on the lookout for an antique bed for our guest room. This is a pic I took to remember what I had seen at various stores.

I ended up buying a much nicer bed later in the afternoon, but having pictures and prices of what I’d seen all day, helped me to negotiate a fair price on the one I ended up buying.

Tips for Where to Go Flea Market and Antique Shopping

The Brass Armadillo

This is probably my favorite place locally to shop for antiques and vintage pieces. It’s just huge, with dozens of individual vendor booths. It’s operated well, and always busy, so the merchandise is frequently changing. If you haven’t been here, prepare for at least 2-3 hours to make it through the whole place.

The Picker Knows

This place is in what used to be the old Dahl’s grocery store on Grand Avenue in West Des Moines, It also has many vendor booths and lots of great stuff to browse.

West End Salvage

West End Salvage is four floors of salvaged items from all over the country. They have everything from furniture, to architectural pieces, to unique one-of-a-kind items. You may have seen their show on HGTV! They even have a full-service coffee bar on-site, so it’s easy to make an enjoyable afternoon of browsing and coffee sipping.

Kansas City West Bottoms

My absolute favorite place to shop for antiques, hands down, no contest….is First Friday Weekends in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. You can read all the details of that trip HERE, and then, please, if you have any interest in antique shopping at all, you definitely should make plans to visit on a First Friday Weekend. Not only do they have warehouse after warehouse of amazing vintage finds all together in one area, but First Friday Weekends are a thing. They have food trucks and live music. Just go. You won’t be disappointed.

Traveling Flea Markets or “Junk Shows”

The Junk Jubilee is one of my favorites that is held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds twice a year–once in November and again in the Spring. It draws vendors from all over the country, and I’ve never failed to leave with some amazing finds! The November one last year is where I purchased the vintage sled that I decorated for Christmas. Do some digging, as I’m sure your neck of the woods has something similar.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- one of my finds: a vintage sled.

At the fall Junk Jubilee in 2017, my sweet mother-in-law saw me admiring a horse “weathervane”, and then purchased it for me as a Christmas gift! It is one of those things that I loved the moment I saw it, and knew it would look perfect on the fireplace mantel of our screen porch, which wasn’t even built yet! But, I could see it in my mind, and we had the mantel custom-built to hold this beauty.

All the materials used to make this horse came from a 100-year-old barn on a century farm, and the horse itself was laser cut from a pattern of the actual weathervane on top of the barn.

The delightful gentleman who was selling them at the Junk Jubilee told me a lovely story of how for years, people had driven up the long gravel drive to their family farm and offered to buy the 100-year-old weathervane that sat atop it. But his father, who had long since passed away, had handmade that original weathervane and there was no way he was going to part with it. So instead, he had it removed from the top of the barn, and used it to make a pattern. Then he removed inconspicuous pieces of metal and wood from around the barn, and used them to fabricate these new weathervanes using his pattern of the original.

I love thinking of that story when we are enjoying our screen porch.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- horse weathervane
See my amazing horse on the mantel? ❤️

The Amana Colonies

This one is up next on our list of places to go. We’re hoping to work in a weekend trip here in the very near future. Just from the little research I’ve done so far, it looks like there are many great shops in close distance to each other. Add in some unique dining locations and coffee shops and it looks to me like the perfect place for our next overnight antique expedition. I’ll be sure to let you know all about it when it happens. 😃

If you’ve been here already, please leave me some comments about the best places to see, shop, drink, and eat!

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- books and buttons
My mom had a collection of antique buttons, so seeing these in antique shops always makes me think of her. ❤️

What Cheer Flea Market

We just discovered this big flea market at What Cheer, Iowa fairgrounds! It happens 2-3 times per year, and is huge! Last month, we spent nearly 8 hours browsing, and still didn’t see everything. We drove about an hour and a half from our home to get there, but it was totally worth it.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping- white antique ironstone plates
White dishes are my weakness…

1. Make a list

One of my best tips for flea market and antique shopping is to make a list of items that are on your “wish list” and keep it with you. I have mine in the notes section of my phone.

Antique stores, especially big flea markets, can be a bit overwhelming with item after item all stacked, piled, and mixed together. It really is like a treasure hunt!

It helps me to have just a few specific things to focus on finding. This way I don’t end up buying a hodgepodge of stuff that I’m left wondering what to do with.

Plus, when you have a list of things that you’re looking for, it really does add to the thrill of the chase. I love it when I’ve been on the hunt for something for a long time, and then I turn a corner in an antique store, and there it is! It’s like finding lost treasure.

The items that are on my list are things that I know what I want to do with them. I already have a plan for them, so they don’t end up crammed in my basement as just more stuff that creates clutter. Here is my current list:

  • a vintage church pew (this is a big item, but I want it for the foot of the bed in one of the guest rooms that hasn’t been decorated yet)
  • two or three antique mirrors (I have a wall arrangement in mind above the antique bed I bought last summer in Kansas City)
  • vintage children’s Christmas books (I’m specifically looking for a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas that I had as a child, but have discovered quite a few other vintage book treasures in the process…)
  • an antique bedside clock (I want one that is vintage and that works, which makes this hunt harder. There are lots of great ones that don’t run anymore, if you want one just for the appearance. Finding a working one is harder. But that’s okay, being patient is part of what makes a good antique shopper.)
  • a white ironstone pitcher (I’ll know it when I see it!)
Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- antique clocks
Some nice clocks, but not quite what I have in mind. I’m still looking…

2. Take a picture and/or write down where you saw an item

I’ve made the mistake of setting an item back down, thinking I’ll come back later after I’ve looked around a bit more, only to have no idea how to find it again! After you’ve looked at literally hundreds of items down row after row, it’s really challenging to remember exactly where that one thing you liked was again.

Some stores, like The Brass Armadillo, offer paper templates of their store when you first come in. All the rows are clearly marked, and you can easily jot down something that interests you, so you can find your way back to it.

Often, I will just snap a couple of pics on my phone–one a close shot of the item I liked, and one a wide-angle shot of the aisle or general area of the store it was in. This makes it so much easier to relocate.

Trust me, you might think you will remember, but your mind will be so full of items that all blend together, you will regret not keeping an easy record.

3. Revisit local stores often

Stock changes regularly at antique stores and flea markets, so if you’re looking for a particular item and didn’t find it, check back regularly.

4. Look it over carefully before buying

Another important tip for flea market and antique shopping is to carefully look over an item before buying.

Most antique stores sell items “as is” and do not allow returns. Therefore, examine your item carefully before buying to make sure you know what you’re getting.

For example, I’ve mentioned that I’m looking for a working vintage clock. It’s my responsibility to try it out before I buy it and make sure it works to my satisfaction because once it’s paid for, it’s mine. As is.

Now, keep in mind that when antique shopping, the patina or wear and tear on items is what makes them special. I love the aged look that represents the life the item lived before it came to me.

This is what makes them interesting, unique and special.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- antique scale
I bought this scale in KC. It’s rusted and worn, but it’s perfect! I saw many other scales in much “better” shape, but I loved the way the dark patina and rust worked with the colors in my kitchen and granite. This scale has some history behind, and that’s what I love.

5. Negotiate if possible

Some places welcome price negotiations and some places do not.

Often times there will be a sign stating that they don’t negotiate, so you know that the price listed is the price you will pay. If you don’t see a sign, just ask.

You can save quite a bit of money by negotiating, plus it’s kind of fun!

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping-- vintage horse from brass
Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping Pinterest

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping: Decorating with Replica “Vintage” Pieces

“Shabby Chic”, “Vintage”, “Farmhouse Style”…. all of these are very popular decorating trends right now. Just walk through the aisles of any retail store and you’ll see aisle after aisle of “fake old” things.

If you love this style of decorating, but the idea of spending hours picking through dusty old antique shops doesn’t make your heart flutter, then purchasing look-alikes, or replicas is a good option.

Places like Hobby Lobby and HomeGoods have so many really cute things. Even Target has a line called Hearth and Hand by Joanna Gaines that sells items reminiscent of all the real antique finds Joanna used in the homes she decorated for her TV show, Fixer Upper.

Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping--Joanne Gaines is my Spirit Animal
My daughter gave me this cup for Christmas last year. She gets me. 🤣

Fake “Old” Vintage and Antique Items

Purchasing “fake old” pieces from a retail store is also a good option if you have your heart set on a particular vintage item, but want to take your time finding just the right one.

For example, an antique white pitcher is on my list of items that I’ve been hunting for a long time. In my head, I have a picture of exactly what I want. And although I’ve seen dozens of white pitchers at the various antique stores in the past couple of years, I haven’t found “the one”. I always tell my husband, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

So in the meantime, I purchased an inexpensive replica from Hobby Lobby, when they had it on one of their frequent 50% off sales. I paid less than $10 for it, and have used it frequently to achieve the look I want until I can replace it with “the real deal”.

And when I find the exact antique white pitcher I want, it’s not a big loss to pass the replica one on to someone else who will enjoy it, or donate it to a thrift store, since it wasn’t very expensive.

Or maybe you’re perfectly happy with decorating with the replica items? There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and either way, you’ve achieved a similar lovely look for your home.

Get the Antique& Vintage Look Online

If you want the look, without hunting through antique stores, here are some great options on Amazon.

White Farmhouse Style Pitcher

“Vintage” Scale

“Antique” Post Box

Galvanized Metal Tray

Farmhouse Wooden Beads with Tassels

Green Glass Jug

I have a jug similar to this one, and just bought the wooden beads above loop around it. I’ll show you a picture once my beads arrive!

Farmhouse Style Wall Clock

Home Body by Joanna Gaines– A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave

If you want some help from Joanna herself in decorating your space with vintage finds (or vintage-inspired finds), then I recommend this book. I have it and love it!

And finally, if you want your own Joanna Gaines is my Spirit Animal mug, you can find it HERE!

This post contains affiliate links.

Are you an antique shopper?

If you are, what are your favorite places?

I’d love to hear about local places or places we should add to our list of road trip adventures! Drop me a comment and give me your best ideas!

Happy Treasure Hunting!

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10 thoughts on “Tips for Flea Market and Antique Shopping

  1. It’s great that you talked about making a list of antique items that we’d like to find when visiting a store or a flea market. My wife said she wants to buy a couple of antique items to add more style to our home. We’ve never hunted for antiques before, so we think your list will definitely help us. We’re grateful for your tips on how we could focus on what we need and avoid getting distracted by other antiques.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful, Eli. Good luck finding those “just right” pieces. I think your wife is right, and you’ll be happy with some antiques to add some unique character to your home.

  2. Omgoodness, I feel like getting into my truck and heading out to shop! You share so many great tips – I especially love the photo tip! We forget where all the good stuff is and then can’t find our way back to it! Thanks for sharing Pinned!:)

  3. I love to mix old and new to get the look I am after. Your thrift stores/antique places sounded great. If you ever get to Maine, give a holler for the lowdown of my favorites around here!

  4. The Turkey River Mall in Elkader, Iowa is a fun destination. It is in an old hotel and is 3 floors of treasures. The owner is super friendly and helpful. Located in beautiful Northeast Iowa .

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