Living Through The Summer - An Outdoor Show Survival Guide

by Judith Katz-Schwartz

Dateline: 05/10/01

'Tis the season for all those outdoor shows and flea markets we dream of on cold winter nights. Of course, in our dreams the weather is gorgeous, there are no bugs, the merchandise is in perfect condition, the prices are so low they're practically giving it away and no one except for us notices the fabulous gems lying on the tables. Good dream, right? Let me drag you back into the real world now. Pay attention and, although I can't promise your dreams will come true, I can promise that your outdoor show experience won't be such a nightmare.

This is not the time to start packing niceties like those paper toilet seat covers (we're not even going to discuss the topic of porta-potties here. Don't get me started). Anything you take will have to be carried around all day, so only the bare essentials should go with you.

You need protection from the elements so bring sunblock and also one of those cheap poncho things that fold up into a pouch and can be thrown away after you're done with it. Don't waste your time trying to get it back into the little pouch after you've used it. That's why you bought a cheap one! Bring sunglasses and a hat, too. You can get really fried on a field. And you will probably need an insect repellant, at least toward the end of the day. Bring a heavy cloth shopping bag, some tissue paper and plastic bags. I wouldn't count on the dealers to have packing materials. Leave some big cardboard cartons in your car, so you don't break anything on the way home. Don't bring a shoulder bag. You need one of those fanny packs (I call them "belly bags." I want the darn thing out in front of me, where I can see it). That will leave your hands free for grabbing, examining and paying. If you have a little red wagon, or a shopping cart, and the terrain is not too rough, bring that too. And I never go to one of these things without at least one bottle of water.

Okay, you definitely don't want to go out there in your Ralph Lauren jeans and Gucci shoes. First off, if the dealers see you dressed that way, forget about deep discounts. Also, you may-- um--glisten a bit on a hot day. You may actually glisten a whole lot! I wear old tee shirts and jeans or sweat pants. I do this so that every time I pass a water fountain I can fill up an empty water bottle and pour it down my own chest. This will keep you cool and comfortable, and you might even win the odd wet tee shirt contest! Wear layers, so you can peel them off as the day progresses (and put them back on, as the day progresses further). Need I mention comfortable shoes? Yes, I need. Wear the thickest, sturdiest, most comfortable ones you own, with non-skid soles (without being too graphic, let me say that some of the fields in which antiques shows are held are cow pastures in their other lives) and make sure they're already broken-in. One more thing--you need a pen (see below), and bring cash.

An orderly mind comes in handy here. Large shows usually have a diagram with all the booth numbers. It is essential that you get one of these. Start at one end of the show. Lots of people like to start at the back, thinking the new and inexperienced dealers will be easy prey. This is why my friend Steve Sussman of Friendship Studios says, "There are no bad booths at this show" at every show he does. People come looking for you in many different ways.

If you see something you like, it's priced right and you can afford it, buy it. The time to buy an antique is when you see it. Grab it before someone else does. If you really can't decide, and want to take a chance on coming back, ask the dealer for a business card, and jot down the booth number and the item description. It will making finding the booth again a simple task instead of a frantic mission. Don't try to do more than you can! If there are 1,000 dealers at the show, just accept that you can't visit every booth. Take the show program home and contact dealers whose specialties match your collecting interests. Be nice. You can catch more flies with honey (yada yada yada). In other words, don't criticize a dealer's wares in an attempt to get him/her to lower his/her prices. It seems silly to be telling you this part, but I'm amazed at how many people show up at my booth, criticize the quality of something I have, and then try to buy it. I usually refuse to budge one cent if they do that.

Regarding the food at most outdoor shows: I would call it swill, but that would be giving swill a bad name. It's pretty much a heart attack on a paper plate. And it's some of the most expensive swill you'll ever see. Just tell yourself that you're going to have a "Fried-day." Also, it's important to psyche yourself into being a hardy soul. You have to keep going, even when the mud sucks the shoes right off your feet and your skin has long since indicated to you that it is medium-well. You have to lug all those packages and your screaming kid for miles, and you have to smile at everyone as if you have just taken a happy pill. Otherwise, don't even think of calling yourself a collector!

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2001 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.