Thursday, May 9, 2013

Going vintage: shopping options for the vintage buyer

If you're interested in vintage stuff, there are lots of different places to acquire it. Antique/vintage stores, eBay and Etsy are generally the first that spring to mind and if you're a new collector, looking for something specific or have more money than time (not a bad thing, just be honest with yourself), those are probably going to be your best options. However, there are other ways to find those vintage treasures.

My best ever thrift store score.

I talk about thrift stores a lot and one of the reasons why is that they're convenient, affordable and open nearly every day. There are at least ten thrift stores within ten miles of my house. Eight of them are open at least six days a week. The thrift store business model is to turn over lots of inventory quickly to make room for the new inventory that arrives every day via donation so the pricing is generally very low. I've found my best bargains at thrift stores so I continue to be a fan. However, thrift stores are incredibly hit and miss and you need to visit often in order to find the best treasures. Sometimes that means the same store twice in one week. I've even visited the same store twice in one day (like in the case of the trip above) to make sure I saw everything or to go home and do some research on something I found. That's just not for everybody, but it's the only way to ensure that you do find something good once in a while.

This was purchased from a consignor at INOVA Annandale, now for sale in my Etsy shop.

Consignment stores tend to be a little more expensive and may look like a thrift store at the lower end or a fancy antique store/boutique at the higher end. The INOVA thrift stores in Springfield, Annandale and McLean all take consignments in addition to being thrift stores. Some antique stores/malls also take consignments. The quality of merchandise is generally a bit higher and the pricing will likely be a bit higher as well as the value of the object is well-known to the seller if they've taken the trouble to bring it to a consignment store. Many consignment stores will also be open six or seven days a week, making them another convenient option.

My latest "estate sale" find, now up for sale in my Etsy store, though this was more of a
moving sale since the woman they belonged to was there at the sale.

Slightly less convenient, but sometimes just as affordable, are estate sales. Some people are discomfited by the idea of poking around in someone else's belongings. I understand that to some extent, but the fact is that a lot of things found at thrift stores are left over from things that didn't sell at estate sales. Antique dealers, Etsy sellers and eBay sellers also acquire inventory from estate sales. Vintage goods have a history and many of them belonged to someone who is no longer with us. If you're going to buy vintage, estate sales are great because the items haven't been sorted through by anyone but the owner's family. This makes way for a really nice selection of items and the pricing is often very fair, particularly on the last day of a sale when items are often 50% off. Of course, the best selection will be on the first day of a sale, generally a Thursday or Friday, which isn't always feasible for those with full-time jobs.

A lot of our furniture came from the DC Big Flea, including this George Nelson dresser.

Finally, there are flea markets and yard sales. The reason I put these last is that most of the time, these are either populated by part-time professional dealers who haven't yet made the jump to an antique mall or store or by families divesting themselves of excess stuff that they don't want. In the first case, you'll be shopping the same sort of pricing at an antique store, Etsy or eBay (not a bad thing, but don't think that in most cases you're going to get an amazing deal). In the second case, most real treasures don't end up at yard sales. Families keep the things they value and the yard sale is full of their cast-offs. Now, one man's trash in another man's treasure, but my experience with yard sales has been very hit or miss; much like thrift stores, but much less convenient. SO much less convenient that I no longer bother with them unless they're of the "neighborhood" variety where nearly every house on a block has items out. 

My antique radio turned bar was an auction find
(well, the radio was--I describe turning it into a bar here).

Finally, there are in person auctions, which is a post for another day. There are high end and lower end auctions and prices can be up or down depending on who is in the room the day of the sale. Auctions are great fun, but way too complicated a topic to cover in an overview post like this. Next time I visit one, I'll do an auction strategy post.

Of course, bargains can be had in any venue. Sometimes you just get lucky! 

So what's your favorite way to shop for vintage goods? Do you have a favorite shopping spot?


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