Thursday, April 14, 2011

11 Tips for Navigating an Antique Market

Sometimes you experience something so amazing, you have to share it. I had something amazing happen last Saturday – I had my first visit to Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta.

My friend Tawana* hired me to decorate her house, and we needed a few things. So we made the two hour drive up I-85 to the once-monthly antique show.

And y’all? I’ve never seen anything like it. It spans both sides of the interstate, inside and outside, vendor after vendor after vendor of anything you could POSSIBLY ever want. I was a little overwhelmed when we walked in, but seven hours later, I had the lay of the land. Here are a few tips if you’re venturing to Scott’s, or any other large antique market with vendors:

1. Wear comfortable shoes. You can’t pay attention to the beautiful lines in an armoire if your feet and back are killing you. Do you own Aerosoles? Wear them.

2. Make a list. Going to any size antique or flea market can be overwhelming, especially when it spans 366,000 square feet. We made a list of the things we were looking for before we went. There is absolutely NO way you can navigate a place like this without a list. I love antique jewelry and silver, but that’s not what we were there for, so we skipped right past those booths. If we hadn’t made a list, I’m 100% certain I would have gotten caught in the first few booths and never made it to the back.

3. Bring cash. Bring lots of cash. Cash is king at the antique market, and vendors are more willing to bargain if you tell them you have cash. They have to pay a small fee for taking credit cards, checks are a hassle and they’re SUPPOSED to charge sales tax on all purchases. So if you’re paying with cash, they save money, they’re paid right away, and there’s no paper trail for Uncle Sam. Win-win.

4. Buy something small soon... You can be so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of items in a place like this that you’re almost afraid to break the seal and buy anything. What if you find the same thing for $100 cheaper 47 rows to the right? So here’s my philosophy: buy something small within about 15 minutes of getting there. We found some antlers Tawana liked and got them for $30. It was a small purchase, but it helped us feel like we’d actually started shopping. There’s some kind of mental hang-up about the first purchase I think, so make it small and get it out of the way.

5. …But wait on the bigger purchases. If you’re looking for a piece of furniture or an antique piece of silver – something that’s going to cost big money (and in my world, “big money” is anything over about $300) – look around first. In my opinion, someone’s not going to snatch up the $1,500 buffet in the first 15 minutes of the place opening, so you’re OK browsing around for a bit. And if you come back and it’s gone, it just wasn’t meant to be. We saw a beautiful buffet early on, and stood around, contemplating whether or not to go ahead and get it. We finally decided to look around a little more, and if we didn’t see anything else we liked, we’d come back for it later. A couple hours later, we stumbled upon an even MORE beautiful buffet for HALF the price of the first one. So many times, it pays to have some patience. Take a picture of the piece you like, and make a note of where it’s located. Many vendors will have cards with their location and phone number, so if you realize it’s the piece for you, you can call to see if it’s still there and get talked back to the booth.

6. Haggle. Vendors are there to haggle – it’s like the silver market in Cozumel when you step off your cruise ship. Here’s how this should go:

You: Browse around, nonchalantly. “This is a nice piece. What’s the price on this?”
Them: “Oh, that’s $600.”
You: Make a face “Hmm – that’s a little more than I was looking to spend. Is that your best price?”
Them: “I could go to $550.”
You: “I was really looking to spend about $475 on something like this. Can you go any lower? I’d be paying cash.”
Them: “Eh – I could go $500, but that’s my best price.”

And voila! You just saved $100, or almost 20%. The most important thing when haggling is this: Always be nice. People are more inclined to give lower prices to those who are friendly.

7. Look over pieces thoroughly. Is the wood scratched? Are there chips out of ceramic? Is there some small piece missing? These don’t mean you shouldn’t buy a piece you love, but you can use them as leverage to get a better deal.

8. Consider going on the last day of the market. Vendors do NOT want to load items, especially heavy items, back into a truck. So if you’ve got a little flexibility about what you can buy, try going later on in the sale. They are ready to make a bargain when it’s 3:00 on Sunday and the show ends in two hours. If you’re looking at a marble-top table and have cash, you’re going to get a deal.

9. Keep everything in perspective. At one point, I got caught up in the “antique experience” and considered talking Tawana into a $50 magnifying glass that would be a beautiful accessory in her living room. But then I remembered: I bought a magnifying glass very similar to it at TJ Maxx for $12 two weeks before. When you’re buying things at places like this, especially furniture, sometimes seeing something that’s relatively inexpensive there makes you think you’re getting a bargain. But keep in mind that, unless you’re the type who goes wild for ALL THINGS ANTIQUE, some of the smaller things should be reconsidered. Is it something you’ve NEVER seen before? Then sure – it might be a great deal. But many things have very similar replicas somewhere for a fraction of the price.

10. Bring blankets, bungee cords, string and a truck. You just don’t know what you’re going to find. You want to be able to get it home safely, so make sure you’ve got all the tools to pack it well. If you have a truck or have a friend with a truck, bring it. You never know when something isn’t going to fit in your SUV.

11. Know when to stop. There’s going to be a point in the day when you’re so tired, everything’s going to look the same. You can get antique overload, and you’ll know the moment it sets it. You’re tired of haggling, your back hurts, you feel like you’ve spent one skillion dollars on nonsense, and nothing has that fancy antique glow anymore. At this point, you need to step away from the Persian rugs and go home. You’re not going to find much else when you feel like this. If you’ve made a weekend trip out of it, go have dinner and a glass of wine and regroup for the next day. If you’re heading back home, just know that in another month, you can go back and see all sorts of new treasures!

I tried – I really tried – to remember to take pictures while I was there to show you all the antiquey goodness, but 100% of my brain power was focused on finding things for Tawana. However, I did take a few pictures of some things along the way that needed to be considered:

This is a really cool counter-height farmhouse table on wheels that would look great in either a rustic setting or a really modern setting to tone that down a little. Asking price was $1,300, but I’m betting the man would have come down to a cool grand.

Tawana ended up buying this lawyer’s bookcase near the end of the day. Each section comes apart, and the top window is leaded glass. It’s a beautiful piece she’ll have forever.

If you want cool lamps, Scott’s is the place to go. This iron chain lamp would be such a cool, rustic piece to add to a traditional space for some extra interest. We didn’t buy this, mostly because we found one even better I’ll show you in a couple weeks when we do Before and Afters of Tawana’s living room.

This is the first buffet we saw and almost bought. The picture doesn’t do it justice - it had such neat features. What looked like an apron on the front was actually little secret drawers!

So, that was my first experience at Scott’s Antique Mall, and I’ll most definitely be back. Perhaps next month!

*Names changed to protect the Internet-leery


  1. You've sold me! I must go soon!

  2. Thanks for this post. Heading to Scott's today and searched for "tips." Found you. Yay. Now, off to the races. :-)