The Carlington Summit

This month we're going to talk about “How to enjoy and survive a swap meet”.

A swap meet is a giant flea market, like the big ones they have for old cars at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Whether you're a collector of classic cars, a lover of vintage toys or purveyor of antique furniture, a staple of the collecting community is the collector's swap meet.

These rapidly expanding and highly popular events have grown in both size and complexity. To help guide you, here's a list of the top 10 tips for both novice and veteran buyers.

  1. Create a Want List: This is not a wish list. Having a list of specific items you are in the market for will help you keep track of the items you need for your collection or project. With a “want” list, you might end up with finds you didn't know you needed until you saw them, and don't need once you take them home.

  2. Carry Cash: While many people may be wary of large sums of money in a high traffic place, the more cold hard cash, the better. Credit cards and cheques are fine for stores, but are only accepted occasionally at flea markets. Take as much cash as you feel comfortable spending. There's nothing worse than being only $20 shy of the perfect item and having money gathering dust in a sock drawer back home.

  3. Dress Casually: Common sense clothing is best, such as T-shirts, jeans, cut-offs or breezy blouses. A tie or suit coat will announce you as a novice or worse yet, as a person who can afford to pay extra for an item. Make what you wear work for you.

  4. Wear Comfortable Shoes: You will be doing a great deal of walking, standing, leaning and browsing, so make sure you're comfortable. That means boots, raincoat, umbrella or rain hat, and even a change of clothes. A smart shopper comes prepared for any weather.

  5. Arrive Early: You will avoid traffic jams, get the best parking spot and enjoy a more complete selection of goods. Rare items with below market prices go fast.

  6. Don't Hesitate to Wait: Some of the best bargains can be gained at the end of the meet, rather than at the beginning. Rather than having to pack of their wares, many sellers are more willing to deal at the end of the day, but it can be a gamble. If you spot a hard-to-find item that you need, and it's priced reasonably, buy it. Wait until the end of the day to buy bigger items.

  7. Getting a Grip: Take a sturdy tote bag or back pack to carry your purchases. A good canvas bag is a must for carrying and protecting smaller items. Paper sacks or plastic bags will rip or break, especially in foul weather. If you are in the market for magazines or books, try using a briefcase.

  8. Carry In - Carry Out: While it is important to be prepared, remember that whatever you carry into the meet limits how much you carry out. Use your car as a storage area or home base if possible.

  9. Eat at Off Hours: You can cover miles of territory at a swap meet in the time you spend standing in a food line. Most people eat between noon and 2 p.m. Eating before noon or after 2 will save you time.

  10. Pick a Spot: Use the lay of the land to your advantage. Picking a predetermined and highly-visible area or landmark as a rendezvous spot is a good idea before splitting up your group. Also, arranging an exact time to meet back again will save you from having to find someone in the crowd.

For die hards, the Carlisle flea market is only a day's drive from Ottawa, and its spring and fall antique shows now offer more than antique automobiles. The show attracts over 360,000 participants annually. To find out more about it, call (717) 243-7855 or look it up on the Internet (try “Carlisle Productions”).

See you next month, and don't forget about those old 45s you no longer want. To unload them, give me a call at 725-2249.