Since the grand opening of the Rose Bowl Flea Market more than 45 years ago, innumerable treasure hunters have crossed the threshold at the historic gates to roam the vast expanse, feeling thrill-of-the-chase excitement. But how do you find the best items, the most favorable prices from among the 2,500 vendors?
The pros shop the monthly market strategically and with enviable panache. They often arrive at ungodly hours in the morning in search of the perfect piece, the hard-to-find item, the invaluable collectible or just the serendipitous find that strikes the fancy in the moment.
We met up with some interior designers, shop owners, collectors and dealers before a recent Sunday market to gather their tips for shopping the flea market like a pro. You can put their insights to use at the next Rose Bowl Flea Market, Nov. 9.
Jaime Rummerfield, designer and co-owner, Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design
Always bargain. It’s a part of the flea market experience. Point out any blemishes or issues to support your case.
Ron Woodson, designer and co-owner, Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design
The weather is typically very nice for the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and wearing a great hat is a must. It must be fashionable, preferably straw with a wide brim. The other two essential items for me are a very comfortable pair of sneakers — I typically go for one of my many pairs of Jack Purcell’s — and a good bag with a shoulder strap, always great for carrying small, fragile pickup items.
Mary McDonald, designer
Get cash and bring lots of checks and make sure your car has nothing in it, because no matter what, you will buy something you should not even think of stuffing in there. Bring a flashlight in case you have come at the crack of dawn; it might be dark still. Come as early as possible.
Denise Portmans, owner, Merchant
I try to hydrate my body before I go with a fresh coconut and plenty of water, and make sure I have some fruit and almonds to snack on throughout the day. I try my best to go early in the morning to get the best treasures. Failing that, I go at the end of the day to get the best deals. I try to always shop within my budget, but if I see something I love that I can’t afford, I ask them if they would consider [offering it on] consignment [at my shop].
Scott Jarrell, co-owner, Hammer & Spear
You’re guaranteed to have a great experience at the Rose Bowl, no matter what time you arrive. You tend to find the best merchandise early in the morning, but the best bargains happen later in the day. We love to haggle, but there has to be give and take. Keep it friendly — you come back to the same dealers month after month, and it’s important to have a good relationship. Sometimes you get a great deal and sometimes you pay a bit more. It all works out in the end. Also, nothing quenches your thirst on a hot day quite like a Rose Bowl beer!
Vanessa De Vargas, designer and owner, Turquoise
Be sure to prep the measurements of the space you need items for. I usually pack a diagram or small sketch of my home or the home I am decorating for a client, paint and fabric samples, tape measure, pencil, paper or note pad. Take a list of what is needed, so you don’t get sidetracked. Those paint samples really do help [so] you don’t make the mistake of buying the wrong color. I have a vintage cart that is great for filling up with all my purchases, and those trusty huge blue Ikea bags. Always bring baby wipes. Yuck, with all that dirty furniture you touch! It’s great to have those handy.
Kimba Hills, designer and owner, Rumba
I often contact some of my favorite out-of-town dealers to see if they will be present and the location of their booth. If there is something I am looking for and they have it in their inventory, I ask them to bring it to the Rose Bowl. I have rituals. When arriving, I first head to the other side of the river where the vintage clothes reside. Mixed in with the clothes are a sprinkling of furniture dealers. This is where you will find your best deals. In fact, many of the Rose Bowl vendors shop here first, before setting up their booths, and then sell their newly purchased items at a higher price.
Bianca Chen, manager, JF Chen
Get a good night’s sleep and come early. I come at 6 a.m. And wear Dr. Scholl’s.
Los Angeles-area flea markets worth a look
Wherever you are in Southern California, there’s probably some kind of flea market nearby. Here are some of the many that operate in the greater Los Angeles area. (See their websites for hours, admission costs, parking and other information.)
Second Sunday of the month
1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena
Third Saturday and Sunday of the month
647 Mateo St., Los Angeles
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday
453 Colyton St., Los Angeles
Third Sunday of the month
1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale
Third Sunday of the month
Veterans Stadium, 4901 E. Conant St., Long Beach
7850 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
First Sunday of the month
1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
First and fourth Sunday of every month
2900 Airport Ave., Santa Monica