Updated: Sep 14
Is there anything better than a day spent with friends, shopping for hidden treasure and vintage finds? Hunting for antique goods and unusual artifacts is a popular pastime, and finding venues with a good selection of quality items can give you a rush, like Indiana Jones finding the lost ark! For many, wandering the displays of an antique mall or flea market is not just a pastime; it’s an art that seasoned professionals and newly crazed novices alike are honing to perfection.
How do you know where to find the best deals or the next piece of your depression milk glass collection? Is there a difference in the quality of items between a flea market and an antique mall? Is it possible to get what you want by going to both? If you are going to get serious about this increasingly popular trend in shopping, you want to find out all you can about a flea market versus an antique mall.
What is a Flea Market?
A flea market is often a collection of vendors who set up their displays for a weekend or short period of time to sell almost anything.
They bring folding tables and canopy tents to display and protect their wares (and themselves) from the weather while people browse the aisles. Each vendor space is usually represented by a person to finalize sales or answer any questions you may have.
At a flea market, the booth renter stays with their table so you can strike up conversation or ask questions about the merchandise they are selling. If you are looking for a certain collectible, they may be able to point you in the right direction. Come prepared because these are knowledgeable folks who have a passion for what they do and sell.
Why is it Called a Flea Market?
While the French moniker “marche aux puces” hasn’t been definitively established as the reason, there is general agreement. The French phrase literally translates to “flea market” and refers to an outside bazaar in Paris. The market specialized in second-hand goods which may – or may not – have contained actual fleas.
Other Terms for Flea Market
Where is the Largest Flea Market in the US?
The largest flea market in the United States seems to be an achievement that is up for debate. Some say it is hands down First Monday in Canton, TX, while others argue the 127 Corridor Sale is the largest as it stretches across multiple states each year every weekend in August. The temporary nature of this setup definitely qualifies it as a flea market, and what a sight to behold! It currently spans nearly 700 miles of backroads along the Highway 127 corridor from Michigan to Alabama.
Where is the Oldest Flea Market?
Dating back to the 1870s, Paris is the site of one of the world’s oldest flea markets, Saint Ouen, which remains a vibrant market to this day. In the United States, Brimfield, MA, is home to the oldest outdoor flea market in the country. Beginning in 1959, it now attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, with over 5,000 vendors set up in 20 fields along the main road.
What is an Antique Mall?
An antique mall is an established, permanent dwelling where vendors lease indoor space to set up displays to sell upcycled, vintage, and other unique items. Each vendor creates an inviting space with shelving and tables to display the items they are selling. Many of these vendors shop at flea markets to find items they can repair, paint, and upcycle at their antique mall space.
Antique malls offer vendors plenty of options to create a unique and inviting space. These vendors can add height and dimension to their booths with lighting and larger structures. With a month-to-month or longer lease, these sellers have a more permanent storefront.
What is the Difference Between an Antique Mall and a Flea Market?
There are distinct differences between a flea market and an antique mall. The first is the permanence of the antique mall versus the temporary nature of a flea market. An antique mall is a permanent structure that designates space for each vendor to set up their booth and display.
Some antique malls even build walls within their large space to give each booth the opportunity to paint, hang lighting, and decorate to create an attractive and unique display. Most antique malls have rules and guidelines about what can be sold. Ensuring an attractive, upcycled aesthetic is very important for the look and feel of an antique mall.
Other Terms for Antique Mall
An antique mall is a cooperative of sorts. While there are many booths and vendors, purchases are made at one set of registers in the front. This allows the vendors the freedom to not be present for each purchase and yet still allow shoppers to buy merchandise from their booth. The antique mall is typically paid a commission on each sale to cover the costs associated with this arrangement.
What Sells in an Antique Mall?
The easy answer to that question is everything! It is almost impossible to walk through an antique mall and not find an item that would look great in your home, hit a nostalgic note or would make a stunning addition to your antique spoon collection. There is always inventory available that has more life to it – you just need to give it a good home and another chance!
5 Top-Selling Items in Antique Malls
Why Do People Buy from an Antique Mall?
From sentiment to supply-chain issues, there are many reasons why buying from an antique mall remains popular. Some people have an appreciation for quality, thrift, and value. Others recognize that there is a demand for pre-loved goods going on and want to get in on the vintage boom.
If you are looking for timeless furniture to add to your home décor, visit an antique mall. You can style an entire room, from rugs to tables and lighting, or pick one signature piece that reminds you of your grandma’s house. The beauty of an antique mall is that the inventory always changes, stocking new-to-you and previously enjoyed options on a regular basis.
Antique Malls and Sustainability
Sustainability is a trendy word right now, but the concept is not something new. As consumers become more environmentally aware, the demand for repurposed older items goes up. Consumer perception of antiques and previously loved furniture has changed as the global desire to reduce our carbon footprint increases.
Upcycling older furniture and even restoring treasures found in other people’s trash – often called dumpster diving – is one way vendors at antique malls are promoting sustainability. Buying antiques is a great way to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle because repurposing old items is what antique malls and sustainability are all about.
Can I Find Vintage Items at an Antique Mall?
Vintage and antique items are both older in terms of age, but antique generally refers to items that are at least 100 years old. In an antique mall, you may find furniture, lighting, glassware, and other items that qualify as antiques but still have charm. Art is also a popular antique but can be difficult to put an exact date on at times. It is also very likely to find vintage items in an antique mall.
Will there be new items or just Vintage and Antique items?
As Antique Malls gain in popularity amongst shoppers so to the constraints of antique malls from the past where everything must be old. Antique malls are growing and adapting to carry a wider variety of products that shoppers want including handmade items, newer upcycled merchandise and gifts. This makes browsing through antique malls even more fun since you will see a wide variety of styles from many decades.
What are Popular Vintage Items Right Now?
Trends in vintage goods change frequently, but right now, there is a solid mix of décor with function. From serving pieces to farmhouse furniture, some of the biggest trends in vintage are available at your favorite antique mall. Whether you want to add them to your personal collection or pick them up to sell later, these are hot buys of the moment in vintage goods.
Hot Buys in Vintage Goods
Mid-century Modern Furniture and Decor
5 Tips for Shopping in an Antique Mall
1. Make a list
2. Take a picture of the item and write down where you saw it
3. Revisit local stores often
4. Look items over carefully before buying
5. Negotiate, if possible
1. Make a list of the items that are your must-haves.
Is there a specific piece of Fiestaware that will complete your collection or a church pew-sized wall in your entry in need of an antique bench? Be sure to organize your thoughts and let your companions know what you are looking for, as well. With so much to look for as you move aisle to aisle, don’t be afraid to make it a team sport!
2. Where you saw it will be hard to remember once you walk away.
When you find an item of interest, take a moment to snap a quick picture and write down where you saw it. You will continue to be visually inundated with vintage wares and collectibles to the point you won’t remember where you live, much less where you saw that antique bedside clock. A picture and a well-worded description of where you saw it will be a game-changer at the end of the day when you are ready to make that purchase.
Some antique malls will provide a map for you to use as you walk around. You can use this to make notes of items that interest you or pieces of furniture you would like to buy and need help to carry out. America’s Antique Malls even provides treasure maps for the young and young at heart to complete as you go through the store.
3. Go back on a regular basis.
The inventory at your favorite antique mall changes regularly, which is the perfect reason to visit often. As you establish a rapport with the store staff and vendors, they may even keep an eye out for the item you are looking for and let you know if they’ve seen it – or even bring it into their space, especially for you.
4. Check out each piece for authenticity or damage.
If you are looking for an authentic holiday blow mold from a specific timeframe, be sure to inspect the blow mold for embossed markings. If you are adding a piece for sentimental value and aren’t concerned about authenticity, still take a moment to check for damage so you can be aware before bringing the item home. Sometimes a collection is just for your own enjoyment, but if it becomes very valuable, wouldn’t it be nice to have pieces in good condition to sell?
5. If it is permitted, negotiate.
Some antique malls have posted signs discouraging negotiating, so in that case, respect the house rules. If there isn’t signage to the contrary, friendly negotiations in a respectful manner can benefit both the vendor and you, the collector. Negotiating is a discussion about the value of the item in question – the more you know about it before you go, the better your position in the negotiation.
If you have an item you would like to ask for a discount or negotiate in some antique malls you can ask the store staff at the register to look it up in the computer if the item is up for negotiation. If so the staff can call the vendor to see if they will take your offer. Take note, some prices are firm and can not be discounted. But, it never hurts to ask.
Is a Flea Market or Antique Mall Better for Shopping?
That really depends on what you are looking for. The temporary nature of a flea market gives you less opportunity to wander through and, depending on the elements, may not be exactly the experience you are looking for. The permanence of an antique mall gives you peace of mind that the structure and vendors will be there for regular visits, allowing you to build your antique collection or add to your home décor at a pace that is comfortable to you.
One really isn’t better than the other, so to speak. Antique malls tend to be more discerning in the merchandise they allow to be sold, whereas at flea markets, anything goes! It is easy to get seduced by the fun and fanfare of a flea market; you may find yourself starting more collections than you bargained for!
When it comes right down to it, being a patron of both local flea markets and antique malls benefits everyone. The vendors of each venue can display and curate their merchandise. And you can purchase and repurpose items that had otherwise reached the end of usefulness where they were.
It’s a beautiful exchange of property that fulfills the adage – one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It’s not trash, in the strictest sense, but to throw away these antique and vintage items would only fill landfills and continue to damage the environment. Flea markets and antique malls have been providing a noble service for centuries – they were environmentally aware long before it was trendy.