Alameda Flea Market Tips + Basics
One of my favorite places in The Bay is the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. The first Sunday of the month, at the crack of dawn, this former U.S. Navy runway transforms into one of the best, and biggest, flea markets in the country. With over 800 booths and 10,000 visitors, Alameda can be intimidating. There is literally something for everyone, and every budget! I've rounded up 10 basic tips and do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
DO : Get up early!
The flea opens at 6 a.m. ($15 at the gate for the early time slot 6 a.m.-7:30 a.m., prices go down after that.) Get yourself out of bed, grab a coffee, and get in the car! Professional buyers for national chain stores, local store owners, interior designers and collectors all make pilgrimages to The Flea. One of the worst feelings is seeing someone with a cart full of amazing finds walking out as you're just getting there. Sellers know that the professionals come early and leave early, and often sell their best pieces in the first hour. Also, the later you wait the worse traffic getting onto the island will be.
DO : Bring CA$H!
There are ATMs scattered around, but they have really high fees. Some vendors take credit card, especially those selling pricey pieces, but don't count on it. Instead, be sure to stop by an ATM before you get onto the island. I set a budget for myself, and then withdraw my entire budget in cash. Don't bring large bills, since many sellers won't have change. Instead, break a $20 at a coffee shop, and hold on to your small bills. They're better for making a deal, and sellers will appreciate them.
DO : Dress in layers!
6 a.m. can be chilly even in August. Wear layers that are lightweight, easy to pack away, and comfy. Be sure to wear really, really comfy shoes. The Flea takes place on an old naval runway, and is HUGE. I wear my Nike Freeruns, Vans or a comfy pair of sandals. If you had a hard time getting out of bed, it's okay to rock leggings and an oversize flannel or sweater. Be sure to wear sunscrean, and bring some for re-application. I also pack a hat and a good pair of sunnies. I also always carry lip balm and some water. There are plenty of food trucks to buy food and drinks at.
DO : Talk to people!
Talk to vendors, especially if you're interested in an item. Many of the sellers have a genuine interest in what they're selling and can be very knowledgeable. Being friendly has gotten me deals, given me tips, and taught me how to bargain. Don't act standoff-ish. Don't be mad when someone says a price is firm. Don't walk around with headphones on--you'll miss the experience!
DO: Attempt to haggle
If you're looking for something specific, do your research and find out what a fair price is. Is it valuable? Is it in high demand? Are the colors popular? Does it go with the current season? All these things play into the price. Some vendors have flexible prices, and will be more inclined to sell something to you at a bargain if you're buying other items as well. Be friendly. They don't have to haggle. Some vendors have fixed prices. I always start off by looking around. If a vendor also has a brick and mortar store, their prices are usually firm. You can usually tell by how the booth is branded. Do they have a logo? Do price tags look like they're from a garage sale or a shop? Do they take credit cards? Finally, be open about what you're doing. Simply ask, "Would you take $X for this?" Usually, they'll respond with a yes or a no and then either tell you the price is firm, or counter offer. It's not that hard.
DON"T : Be afraid to walk away
If something is out of your budget, walk away. If your gut tells you that an item just isn't quite right, leave it! Don't let yourself be pressured into making a purchase. It's okay to say 'no' or 'I'll pass' or 'that's more than I wanted to spend'.
DO : Buy it!
If you see something you like, and it fits into your budget, buy it! The Flea is a fast and confusing place. Going back to find something you saw is nearly impossible. Also, there's a good chance it will already be gone. If you want something, snatch it up!
DO : Make a plan
Where are you going to put that cute vintage chair? How are you gonna get that table home? Will it fit in your car? Does the vendor offer delivery? Do you need it? Do you really, really want it? Set limits for yourself and stick to them. Also, measure your car. Don't get stuck with something that doesn't fit. There's no returns or exchanges at most booths.
DON'T : Get distracted by the first few rows.
Yes, there are some awesome things to find in the beginning, and it's easy to be overwhelmed, but don't get sucked into the first few rows. I really like checking out the guy with the antique diagrams, antique charts and posters right at the beginning, but I save him for last. He has tons of inventory, and unless you're a collector or are looking for a really specific print, save it for the end. I like to wander up the center isle a bit, and then meander down the rows. Some of my favorite vendors are towards the middle, including Olde Good Things and Big Daddy Antiques. I walk at a pretty good pace if I'm on a mission to find something, but take plenty of time to wander around. Some popular items, like vintage frames and chalkboards, are easily found at many booths, and prices vary depending on size and how ornate they are. All items are supposed to be at least 20 years old.
DO : Give yourself a mission
I like to focus on finding an item or two when I go. Years ago, when I first discovered the magic land of Alameda, I never had a mission. I wandered around without a purpose. I had fun, and I found some awesome pieces, including a vintage dresser I've since rehabbed, picture frames, an antique mirror and tons of accessories, but it wasn't until I began to give myself missions that I truly began to understand how The Flea works. If you're just starting to furnish an apartment, wander around. If your house is full, give yourself something to look for. I always have a few things that I keep an eye out for, like a Federalist Mirror, Amish-pattern Pyrex bowls, mini toy sewing machines, and glass boxes. I find that if you give yourself something to seek, you'll pay more attention to everything.
If you get tired, or hot, or thirsty, or hungry--take a break! If you're not feeling it, leave! If you're not having a good time, why are you there? Alameda should be fun, exciting and inspirational. There are tons of vendors with things you'll have never seen before. Learn something new. Find a one-of-a-kind, unique item that is totally you!