I Shop Flea Markets Every Weekend—This Is How I Find Gems

vintage living room decor

@sarahlyon9 / Instagram

Even though I live in bustling New York City, I still manage to visit a flea market almost every weekend. My two favorites are located right nearby in Manhattan: There's the Chelsea Flea, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays, and the Grand Bazaar on the Upper West Side, which solely operates on Sundays. Both of these flea markets take place year round, rain or shine, and run for most of the day, making them easy for me to visit as I please.

I frequently share my favorite finds from these two flea markets on social and am often met with shocked reactions from my Instagram followers who can't believe my scores. Last December, I sourced a vintage Dior trunk at the Chelsea Flea, which I use in my apartment as a decorative piece. Both at the Chelsea Flea and the Grand Bazaar, I've also snagged designer shoes and outwear and have picked up artwork and decorative pieces galore—there's always so much beautiful glassware to be found, in particular!

Because I'm all about sharing the flea market love, I wanted to pass along a couple of go-to tips that have helped me while hunting for treasure and are sure to guide you in the right direction, no matter where in the world you live or what styles appeal to you.

Visit the Same Flea Markets Week After Week

I could easily plan a jaunt upstate with some friends and check out a whole new world of flea markets if I wished, but I'm content visiting the same flea markets time after time simply because inventory is always changing. Sure, I do see some of the same items week after week, but at the same time, there are constantly new vendors popping up at the spots I frequent, and meanwhile, returning vendors are always showing up with new offerings.

By becoming a regular at these markets, I also have a better sense of the lay of the land (though note that vendors may not be literally stationed in the same exact place week after week). I also find that I'm less disappointed if there are days that I go home empty handed. If I've had sufficient luck at particular market in the past, I know that there's still hope down the line. After all, most flea markets, even the absolute best ones, are generally hit or miss!

vintage dior trunk

@sarahlyon9 / Instagram

Don't Deliberate

If you're the type of person who asks the department store manager to put a dress on hold so that you can think about it for a day, the flea market world is easily going to overwhelm you. Keep in mind that there is generally only one of a particular item available, and if you don't snag it, someone else likely will. There are no holds at the flea market, it's all about being a little bit impulsive and feeling confident in your decision to quickly say yay or nay to a particular find.

Don't Let Transportation Woes Weigh You Down

Many people wonder how I'm able to thrift shop so easily while living in Manhattan, simply because everyone knows that carting large items on the subway can be a hassle. Generally, the items I pick up at city flea markets are small enough for me to take home using public transportation, but if I stumble upon something oversized or heavy, a taxi or Uber will do the job. To save money, I always recommend traveling to the flea market as cheaply as possible (walking, getting a ride with a friend, or taking public transit). That way, if you score big, you'll feel less guilty about splurging for that $30 cab ride home.

vintage pieces on coffee table

@sarahlyon9 / Instagram

Bring Cash

It's rare that I carry cash in my wallet, but when I head to the flea market, I always make sure to bring a little bit (or at least scope out the location of the nearest ATM). Many vendors still prefer cash, and I've found that paying with cash makes it a bit easier to score a deal when negotiating.

Negotiate Politely

I'm all for negotiating a bit when at the flea market, and it's pretty much expected in this type of setting. I've also found that I'll have better luck getting a discount when I'm buying multiple items from a particular vendor. Be sure to be polite when haggling; you can mention to a seller how much you love their piece and calmly ask whether they're flexible on price. That said, if a price seems too good to be true, I find that it's better to make your payment quickly and move along—you'll likely be bursting with excitement anyway!

accessories on bookshelves

@sarahlyon9 / Instagram

Decide Whether You Want to Be Social

Don't get me wrong, I love introducing my thrift loving friends to my favorite flea markets. Why not grab brunch nearby ahead of time and make a morning of it? But if you're short on time or truly on a mission, your best bet is to navigate the flea alone—you won't want to risk missing out on something great because you're stuck at a certain booth with your sister. That said, if you have a bestie with an amazing sense of style, definitely bring them along. Shopping with a fellow flea enthusiast is the absolute best, particularly if they have intel on amazing vendors or have an amazing eye. It's always fun to se what types of pieces others gravitate to, and who knows, your friend could lead you to something amazing that you would've overlooked had you been by yourself.