Trip jump-starts flea market season

By Terry Maurer, What's it Worth May 20, 2012 

The Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, meaning the start of camping season to some, gardening season to others.

There are collectors, though, who consider this holiday the beginning of flea market season here in the Northwest.

Far to the south, outdoor markets in Southern California are open year-round. Here, most are closed for many months during the winter and spring. They come to life with the start of warmer weather in places such as Packwood, Sumpter, Ore., and Sagle, Idaho.

Flea markets are defined as being held outdoors, with antiques, used household goods and curios being sold.

What's It Worth? took a "busman's holiday" to two fleas in the Los Angeles area earlier this year. We will give you details in today's column, and provide some tips for flea market shopping.

Billed as the largest on the West Coast, the once-a-month Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, Calif., features about 3,000 sellers, 800 or so specializing in antiques. Named by Fodor's Travel Magazine as one of the world's top 10 fleas, 25,000 shoppers turn out on the second Sunday of each month.

The market isn't staged in the Rose Bowl, but it takes over most of the parking lots and public area surrounding the stadium.

Advice to savvy shoppers looking for antique treasures at any flea is to bring cash and get there early. Early means 6 a.m. at the Rose Bowl, which is too early for your correspondent.

We arrived about 9 a.m. and still found bargains -- like a cute infant feeding dish for $10. One booth had lots of miscellaneous paper items dating to the 1930s. A careful dig through the layers yielded a dozen colorful vintage luggage stickers from hotels in Rome, Cairo and London.

Today's flea markets are different than those of years past. Rose Bowl dealer Kim Dinardo noted it is much harder to find interesting merchandise for her booth. She also said the down economy has "people being a lot more haggle-prone."

Another large flea in L.A. also is once-a-month, in the parking lots at Veteran's Stadium in Long Beach. Good Housekeeping magazine calls it "tops in the U.S." This market is exclusively older items and has about 800 booths.

Cold weather and rain kept many dealers and shoppers at home the day we visited. Even so, we found nice older clothing buttons and other "smalls" to bring home.

Longtime promoter Donald Moger said current market trends are an emphasis on mid-20th century pieces shoppers can use in their homes.

"The customer base is getting younger and more and more younger dealers are bringing the recycled and repurposed items -- as well as the vintage fashion," he said.

Nearer to the Tri-Cities, you'll find seasonal flea markets in such locations as Sagle, Idaho (near Coeur d'Alene), up over White Pass along Highway 12 in the town of Packwood and elsewhere. Markets seem to come and go; for instance there are incorrect online listings for two that no longer exist in Kennewick). Check ahead to make sure your trip is worthwhile.

Locally, the market out Lewis Street in Pasco runs on Sundays from March to November. There is not much here to tempt the antiquer, though. A few booths have secondhand tools and the occasional collectible. Mostly marketing to the Hispanic community, there are good buys in music, interesting clothing, terrific food stands, used vehicles and even a nursery selling trees.

The flea market concept originated in France with the centuries-old Marché aux Puces (Market of the Fleas) in Paris. That site features about 3,000 vendors today.

In the Northwest, most of our fleas are much, much smaller; easy to shop in a few hours. While there seem to be no giant, California-like venues close by the Tri-Cities, advice to bargain hunters is always the same -- anywhere in the world.

In addition to getting there early and carrying cash, these tips are universal.

-- Wear comfortable shoes; you'll be on your feet a long time.

-- Be polite, but don't be afraid to bargain. Asking a dealer, "Can you do better on this price?" is a good way to start negotiations.

-- Don't bad-mouth the merchandise. The dealer probably knows that vase has a chip and that's been considered in her price.

-- Remember to take water and some way to carry your purchases. Large canvas bags are good and many shoppers use small rolling carts.

-- If shopping for big items like furniture, bring your measurements from home and carry a tape.

-- A hat and sunscreen can save you from an uncomfortable post-market sunburn experience.

-- Most of all, be optimistic you will find that treasure, and remember, this is supposed to be fun, not work!

* Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com

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