Written by Anna van der Heijden
Photographed by Alison Engstrom / Flea market scenes captured around France
With summer finally here, the season of weekend trips has started. One way to explore new places is by browsing the local flea markets, hunting for antique and vintage gems. When Nicolas Martin discovered that there was a place for him to collect antiques without the need for a thick wallet, he was over the moon. Quickly, browsing flea markets became his hobby and the perfect way for him to explore new cities. He started posting photos of his finds on a blog (this was in a time when Instagram didn’t exist and Facebook pages weren’t big yet). “Where did you find this?” people asked him all the time. That’s when he decided to take this blogging thing more seriously and created his website Flea Market Insiders, which he updates with original content at least once a week. He took it a step further with the launch of Fleamapket, an interactive map that shows users the best flea markets, antique fairs and related upcoming events in the world. We talked to Nicolas about his new app, his love for flea markets and his tricks to navigate the structured chaos of flea markets.
COULD YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT FLEAMAPKET?
Surprisingly enough, not every flea market vendor actually sells vintage or antique. With thousands of flea markets taking place every weekend, shoppers face the time-consuming task of browsing endless directories to find the right flea market. That’s where we come in. We provide a clear and structured overview of the best, most authentic, high-quality markets out there. Our reviews are independent and our information is up-to-date. By providing this material, all there is left to do for our readers is to go to the market and have fun.
THERE IS A PREMIUM OPTION, WHY SHOULD PEOPLE USE IT?
Fleamapket Premium’s most popular feature is its (smartphone compatible) calendar. It provides an overview of the world’s best upcoming flea markets and antique fairs. Members also get access to detailed travel itineraries for vintage shopping weekends. Right now, we have guides for ten cities, including New York, London and Paris. And to make a trip to the flea market as easy as possible, our members can ask for free shopping tips from our expert editors and use mini-dictionaries with useful phrases and words to help them haggle in languages such as Japanese, German and Polish.
WHERE DOES YOUR LOVE OF FLEA MARKETS COMES FROM?
I’ve always had an interest in old things and a passion for history. But, when I was younger, I genuinely thought that old things could only be passed down from one generation to the next. Later, I thought that collecting antiques was something only fortunate, well-off individuals could do. That’s when I discovered flea markets, where I could build my own collection of antiques.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT VISITING A FLEA MARKET?
The unexpected and the hunt! When I show up at a flea market in the morning, I never know what I'll find, or if I'll even find anything. There is a special atmosphere at these markets, fueled by the fresh morning air, haggling over everything (I love the haggling!), vendors shouting at each other, cheap coffee, “organized” mess, and the motley selection of items. This atmosphere provides the perfect scenery for the exciting feeling of finding a hidden gem or discovering something I never thought I needed.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FLEA MARKET?
As a born and raised Parisian, I love to spend time at Paris' two main flea markets: Les Puces de St Ouen/Clignancourt, and Les puces de la Porte de Vanves. The first is one of the largest in the world, hosting over 1700 merchants. The second was established in the early 20th century, and, as it is tucked away in a quiet tree-filled corner of the city, still has its genuine spirit. But every flea market has its charm, be it the quality of the antiques sold there, its impressive size, the friendliness of its vendors, or the beauty of the premise.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU DON’T GET “LOST” BETWEEN ALL THE KNICK KNACKS?
I have trained eye and the ability to see an item out of its flea market context. Over time, I've developed the ability to switch to what I call "blind mode,” which allows me to quickly browse a flea market stall, while ignoring knick knacks.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MARKET DISCOVERY?
I found great bargains worth thousands of dollars, which cost me less than $100. But one of my most epic flea market finds wasn’t one with the highest monetary value, but one with a priceless historical value. At a flea market in Paris (Porte de Vanves), I found a 1922 "Pathé Baby" Film Projector in almost mint condition, with a dozen of early 9.5 mm films dating back to the 1920s, featuring characters such as Felix The Cat, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Vanel and Harold Lloyd. The whole thing cost me about $50.
WHAT ARE SOME SHOPPING TIPS AND TRICKS?
Besides getting a good night of sleep, these tricks can help flea market enthusiasts to successfully prepare for a shopping trip.
• Know your flea market. If you’re not familiar with the flea market you’re visiting, do a quick tour to get an overview of the place, before you start browsing the stalls in detail.
• Pack the right gear. A great day at the flea market starts with the right preparation. Carrying the right equipment helps you go the extra mile when most “competitors” give up and head home. Make sure to dress in functional clothes, and, this might sound surprising, don’t forget a flashlight! Most flea markets start before dawn, so a flashlight is a must-have tool for any serious shopper. Without one, you are dependent on the streetlights (if there are any) or on your cellphone’s flashlight, which is far from adequate.
• Educate yourself. Most flea market and antique merchants I’ve met, started their careers based on mere passion for the business. Many of them educated themselves by reading about the topic they were interested in. Even if you don’t want to start a business, doing research makes you more knowledgeable and benefit you during your shopping trips.
• Bring technology into the game when you’re at the flea market, to help you find out if an item is worth the price. Ebay, for instance, can give you a good idea of the resell price of a particular item. And Googling a brand, reference, serial number or picture of an item, can give you information that will help in the negotiation process.
• Stay open-minded when shopping. If you show up at a flea market with a too-specific idea of what you are looking for, chances are you’ll start “blindly browsing” the stalls, missing other great opportunities. So, freestyle! Try to picture what an item would look like outside of its flea market context. This requires some practice and a bit of imagination.
• When you find it, grab it, and don’t let go! Merely looking at something is not going to magically make it yours. If you like it, you must hold it in your hands. This is a way to prevent other people from taking it from you.
- Go to flea markets on a regular basis. This is the best way to sharpen your selective eye. Flea markets can quickly become overwhelming: hoards of people, booths crammed with tiny objects, and not enough time to browse everything in detail. Going often will train you to quickly see potential in that one item hidden in a sea of other pieces.