We will be starting our annual cross-country antiquing trip in just 2 weeks (!) and as usual it snuck up on me. We have been taking this trip for over 20 years so the overall route and rhythm remain the same, but the details always change. When we started the internet was new and most secondhand businesses were not advertising. GPS were expensive bulky units. Smart cell phones were years away. We had a printed AAA Trip-Tik and picked up flyers and magazines along the way. Now we have more real-time resources, but word of mouth and paper advertising remain necessary to find the hidden treasures.
We have limited time to shop – driving 2200 miles in 5 days – so we have to make hard choices about when and where to stop. We have favorite shops that we return to again and again, but we also want to find new treasures and some businesses we like are closed when we drive by the next year. The rule of secondhand shopping is you never know when or where you will find great things. Here are my thoughts about the time/value proposition!
On the one hand prices tend to be cheapest here, but on the other hand the ‘hit ratio’ is lowest for us. These stores vary from large chains like Goodwill and Savers to for-profit small owner shops. I do like that the larger stores have later hours; some stay open as late as 9 PM even in small towns. Stickers on items are my deep and true enemy. These shops have problems with shoplifting and sticker-switching so their price tags can destroy the value of items. Large sticky price tags are plastered across everything from books to pictures. I walk away from more stuff here than anywhere. The other annoyance is the ‘collectible’ section. Employees seem to only use eBay for price reference and will stick the auction listing on the piece with their price tag equal to the auction asking price. Overall we tend to not shop at thrift stores due to the time constraints, but if we find one open later than the antique stores in the area we wont pass it by!
I am specifically addressing the Midwestern style of flea market which is a permanent building, with many individual sellers. I honestly have not seen this style of business on the coasts; that is not to say they don’t exist elsewhere, just that I have noticed they seem to flourish in the Nebraska-Kansas-Missouri area. They have names like Itchy’s Stop and Scratch, are rarely air-conditioned and have the widest possible variety of stuff and prices. These are our personal favorite places to shop. You can buy homemade food, new junk, tools, motorcycles, party supplies, antiques, services and anything in between. You can’t walk into some booths they are so junky, but those booths can be in between real antiques and curated mid-mod furniture. It is rare we can’t find at least one box of bargains at any given flea market we stop at.
Higher prices but better stuff = very hard to pass by! Antique stores can be owner-operator or multi-dealer malls, large or small, almost never open or 9-9 every day. We have our favorites (Brass Armadillo!) and are always on the hunt for more. As I look through old pictures our best profit buys all came from official antique stores. The dealers know a lot and only put stuff in their booths that they think will sell. Since most know their stuff prices tend to be very close to full retail. Nobody knows everything though so there is real gold at fool’s gold prices if you can find it. These stores tend to advertise the best so that is another reason we frequent them – we can find them!
Yard sales, estate sales and auctions are our favorite shopping places when at home, but it is usually too much work and time to bother with them when travelling. If we see a good sale when just driving by we may stop or just do a drive-by. These are also outdoors so in mid-America July heat and humidity they aren’t as attractive to us. We also don’t have time to search places like Craigslist. Sellers usually aren’t sitting by waiting for buyers, so if I found something we could be a few states away by the time I had a response.
Well, hope that gave a brief glimpse into the mind of a travelling antique dealer! I will be posting as close to daily as I can once we get on the road, so be sure to follow along!