- Antique treasure-hunting draws shoppers from around the world to American flea markets
- Traders and merchants have been swapping goods in Canton, Texas, since 1850
- Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market in Ohio draws more than 20,000 shoppers
All you need to know about visiting this iconic celebrity magnet east of L.A. can be summed up in seven words: Arrive at eight. (It's only $2 more than the general admission that begins at 9 a.m.) Wear sunblock. (This is southern California, after all.) Turn left. That's where you'll find the market's antiques booths and, beyond them, just over the two small footbridges, lower-priced odds and ends and 600 vendors of vintage clothing; denim and dresses are a particular strength. If we may suggest six more words for your consideration: Make-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar (in the food court).
The three annual Brimfield Antique Shows have grown to encompass more than 20 individual shows (known as fields), each with hundreds of vendors lined up along a one-mile stretch of Route 20 (get a field-by-field breakdown at brimfieldshow.com). Many take the same spots season after season, and repeat visits make the experience less overwhelming. For a taste of the original, browse the old wooden trunks, braided rugs, and Depression glass at J&J Promotions, run by the daughters of Brimfield founder Gordon Reid and held on the same field where Reid staged the first event back in 1959.
Few American flea markets can measure up to Canton in terms of history: residents of this small town an hour east of Dallas have been hauling their goods here to trade since 1850, when everything from hunting dogs to hand tools was bartered outside the courthouse during the circuit judge's monthly visit. Today, the market covers more than 100 acres of land a few blocks from the original courthouse square location. The merchandise is more varied than ever, with vintage cowboy boots, handcrafted leather saddles, antique silver, 19th-century flow blue pottery, and homemade hot sauce among the 6,000-plus regular stalls.
Even a gold standard like Springfield—which draws more than 20,000 shoppers, including designers and collectors from as far away as Japan—sees fit to up the ante once in a while. In 2012, it has rounded out its dealers of 19th-century midwestern antiques and 45 food vendors (Crazy Uncle Larry's one-pound pork chops!) with live music, beer and wine stands, and a tented Vintage Marketplace dedicated to more trend-driven clothing, accessories, and housewares. The same exit of Interstate 70 leads to two more outstanding places to shop: AAA I-70 Antique Mall and Springfield Antique Center.
An interior decorator's dream, and a regular resource for the likes of Top Design alum Eddie Ross, Atlanta's monthly 3,300-booth Scott Antique Markets provides consistent conditions (two climate-controlled exhibition centers with shuttle bus transportation), and predictable pricing (not quite garage-sale cheap, but less expensive than some more-famous markets). You're almost guaranteed to find heirloom-quality oil paintings, French armoires, and upholstered furniture in the mix. Note: this is not the place to come for makeover projects; most everything for sale is already rehabbed and ready to go.
Industrial artifacts, funky lighting, Midcentury Modern furniture, and artwork by alums of Chicago's School of the Art Institute (Koons, O'Keeffe) are standouts at this highly curated monthly event. Themed weekends might highlight a season (July's sunglass shop and manicure station) or a holiday (February's love-letter-writing desk and displays of couture and jewelry). On-site services include antique appraisals, lamp repair, and furniture restoration, as well as crystal and porcelain refurbishing. Delivery of furniture more than $200 in value is free in the downtown area.
With its unmatched user-friendliness (free shuttles from the rear parking lot, shopping carts, an all-marble bathroom in the new Auction Annex), it's no wonder this 800-vendor sale has been a northern California favorite for 15 years. But even stripped of those creature comforts, the 13,000 regular shoppers would still turn out for the impeccably art-directed displays of antique French furniture, Bakelite serving trays, and metal sign letters—plus views of the San Francisco skyline just across the bay.
Consider it the moveable flea. In high season (April through Thanksgiving), 150 vintage/antique/artisan booths set up outdoors in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene (Saturdays) and Williamsburg (Sundays). Come winter, they head inside the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, a 1929 wonder with vaulted ceilings, gold-leaf mosaics, and marble floors. Expect vintage maps, retooled bicycles, and retired classroom furniture, along with handmade geometric jewelry, architectural salvage, and troves of used designer handbags. It's a scene, to be sure, but also a great place to get inspiration for your next apartment (or wardrobe) makeover—and perhaps discover an untapped appreciation for kimchi-topped hot dogs. The related market Smorgasburg focuses entirely on such creative street food.
An anything-goes state fair spirit runs through Raleigh's weekly flea market, held on, yes, the fairgrounds every Saturday and Sunday—except in October, when the actual state fair is in full swing. A thousand vendors spread out between six buildings and several acres of fields and lots, hawking used books, bluegrass albums, North Carolina pottery, batteries, and barbecued pork. Throw in family-friendly extras (face-painting booths) and access to other events (a handbell festival, say, or a model train expo), and you've got plenty of diversions for the 2.4 million shoppers the event draws annually.
Although all the items at Portland's thrice-annual antiquing event must be at least 30 years old, this 1,100-vendor bazaar is anything but stuck in the past. Proof: while it's always been a mother lode for old-school toys, nostalgic knickknacks, and Americana of all kinds, over the last few years, the event's savvy organizers have begun catering to a new, younger audience, adding in more of what's selling now (Victoriana, vintage hats, '40s and '50s kitchenware).