Top 10 Places Flea Market and Antique Sellers Find Merchandise

Where to Buy Antique and Vintage Goods Cheap Enough for Resale

Flea market merchandise at pop-up Paris flea market.
By David McSpadden from Daly City, United States (Pop-up flea-market) [ CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you're considering starting a flea market business or renting an antique mall booth, the first thing you'll need to do is find merchandise to sell. Even if your starting stock comes from your own collections and overflow, you'll have to replenish the merchandise regularly. And, you'll need to find it cheap enough to allow for resale markup. 

Here are the top ten best sources for your flea market or antique business, along with some tips on how to maximize the bang for your buck.

Live Auctions: Do Your Homework

Live auctions have always been an important source of resalable antique, vintage, and primitive merchandise. The key is attending the right types. Look for those called estate, household, barn, farm, or country auctions. Sometimes you can even pick up under-priced pieces at events billed as antique auctions if the auction company and merchandise aren't too high-end. 

Make sure you attend the auction preview to inspect the merchandise up close and look through the box lots. Make note of the things you plan to bid on and decide on your maximum price. Then, stick to it when the bidding begins. You don't want to get caught up in a competitive bidding war with a private collector wth deep pockets.

Estate Sales: Timing is Important

Though some estate sales take place because the owners move, downsize, or enter assisted living, they're traditionally held when someone dies. After the heirs set aside any pieces they plan to keep, they or the deceased person's executor schedule a sale to liquidate the remaining contents of the house, outbuildings, and grounds. 

You won't get next-to-nothing yard sale prices at most estate sales, but you will usually find finer goods. After all, people hold yard sales to get rid of their "junk." At estate sales, you see the things the owners valued enough to keep.

Wait until the last day of the sale to attend these; that's usually when the prices will be lowest. If you're not sure which sales are which type, check the ads. If there's no company name listed, the sale probably isn't being run by professionals. 

Yard Sales: Bargains Galore

You won't find as much resalable merchandise at yard sales as you do at estate sales and auctions, but the pieces you do find will come cheap.

Avoid yard sales in newer suburbs with young families. While some may have the stuff you're looking for, you'll see a lot more baby clothes, children's toys and newish home furnishings from catalog stores. For older and potentially more valuable stuff, attend yard sales in older neighborhoods with elderly residents who've lived there for many years. 

You'll want to prioritize some sale types as well, even if they're not in the neighborhoods where you usually shop. Church rummage sales, neighborhood sales, and block sales are all ideal. 

Wanted to Buy Ads

Some dealers place "wanted to buy" ads on Craigslist, in newspaper classified sections or both. If you go that route, include only your first name, email address or phone number, and a brief description of what you want to buy. The latter can be a general "I buy old stuff/antiques" or you can name the specific type of item.

Don't include any details about where you sell. If they happen upon your booth by accident, so be it. But there's no reason to invite them to see the difference between what you paid and what you put on the tag. 

Thrift Stores

For resale purposes, thrift stores cost a little more than yard sales, but they usually have more stuff. Make sure you're polite to the staff. They can tell you how the sales work and when the new merchandise arrives. If they like you and know you come in every week, they may even hold things they think you'll like until you arrive.

For Sale Classifieds

Check your newspaper classifieds as soon as the paper comes out to see what people are trying to sell. The listings on Craigslist go live as people post, so check those numerous times throughout the day. Since individual sellers don't always know what they have, read the listings in all categories, not just those in the categories you prefer.

Antique Pickers 

Pickers -- that's short for antique pickers -- gather merchandise via regular rounds to some of the same sources on this list. They usually visit brick-and-mortar antique stores to sell their goods. But if your booth is in a high-profile market or a high-end mall, you might want to try buying from pickers. Even though you're scouring the same sources, you can't be everywhere at all times. 

Store Closings and Liquidations

When retail stores close and hold liquidation sales, that's your chance to buy both display fixtures (cabinets, cases, countertop display props, jewelry busts, hat stands, etc.) and new old stock. Ideally, attend liquidations for stores that have been in business for a long time, since the depth and breadth of merchandise will be greater.

Private Sellers Who Approach You

Brick-and-mortar antique shop owners are often contacted by people who have old things to sell -- and sometimes those turn out to be great buys. You won't experience this as much with a flea market or antique mall booth, but you can try to encourage it.

Tell your friends and family to spread the word that you're always looking for old things to buy. Place a stack of business cards in your booth so people can help themselves. You might even include a line on the card that you buy as well as sell.

Other Flea Markets and Antique Malls

It may seem strange to consider buying stock from the same type of place as you sell, but remember that not all flea markets and antique malls are the same. If you sell in a high-profile antique mall in a pricey city, for example, the small-town mall a few hours down the road may have the same type of merchandise for a third of the price.