Treasure hunting in Topeka: Garage Sales, Flea Markets, Thrift Stores, and more

Bargain hunters love a good garage sale.  My favorite find at a garage sale was a crockpot I got for $5 that I used for many years.

One upcoming event of interest to bargain hunters is the TADA (Topeka Antiques Dealer Association) Summer Antiques and Collectibles Flea Market.  It will be June 1st and 2nd at the Ramada Inn in the Jefferson Room.  Friday hours will be 6-9 ($3 entrance fee); Saturday hours are 9-4 and admission is free.

Whether you are selling or buying the library has a variety of resources that can help.  Here are some tips and some suggested pre-sale reading.  If you have any tips or stories to share we’d love to hear your comments:

Tips for sellers 
  • Enlist plenty of help for the sale
  • Clean items before the sale—be careful if they are fragile
  • Advertise: use the newspaper, online posting sites like craigslist and freecycle, signs, church bulletins, etc.
  • Make sure to have plenty of signs with big clear lettering pointing folks to your sale.   One day for a sale is usually long enough.
  • Collect plenty of tables and clothes racks to display your items
  • Supplies to have on hand: Ziploc bags for small items, poster board to make signs, price stickers (it’s nice to have color coded ones), tape, and money to make change.
  • Make big signs or use boxes for items that will all be the same price: i.e. Jeans-$1 each.  Be sure to group like items together.
  • Books can be helpful guides to weed out valuables before a sale, but never expect to get book value at a garage sale.  Overpricing is a common mistake—Price things to sell.
  • Make a “free” box of small toys for kids to play with while their parents shop
  • Have bags and packing materials on hand for your buyers
  • Make sure you have a plan for the day of the sale.  Who will man the money table when, at what time you will start reducing prices (you might even want to post a sign), how you will handle breaks, etc.
  • Start your sale on time, never early , it annoys those who play “fair” and show up at the right time.
  • Consider offering free coffee for the early morning folks.  This may be a good day for your children or the neighborhood children to operate a refreshment stand —but only if it won’t create extra stress on you!
  • Have a plan for your leftover items.—such as donating them to a charitable organization
Helpful books from the Library:

book coverSell, Keep or Toss? What to do with a lifetime of treasures by Harry Rinker
An expert appraiser walks readers through the process of creating a “disposal plan” for their personal possessions or those of an estate.

The Great Garage Sale book: How to run a garage, tag, attic, or barn saleby S.H. Simmons
An expert in advertising and running tag sales tell you how to make your sale stand out from the crowd. 

Tips for Buyers
  • Plan your day: scour craigslist, the classified ads, and watch for signs to find sales—especially good are neighborhood sales.  Don’t forget that churches, retirement homes often hold sales too. Plan a route that covers the most sales with the least amount of driving.
  • Know the best locations.  Older neighborhoods where folks are retired or are moving are the best for collectible type items, like vintage kitchen décor or costume jewelry
  • Pick the sales that look the most promising and be sure to show up early (but not before the time the sale is supposed to start—play fair!).
  • If you collect something specific, it doesn’t hurt to mention it to the seller—they may have something you collect that they forgot to put out in the sale—or they could point you to another seller who does have what you’re looking for
  • Be on the lookout for damage.  Take things out into the light if need be to examine them for cracks, chips, missing parts, places where it was glued, etc.
    To determine if a piece of pottery or china has hairline cracks, do the “sound test”.  Flick the item (this works best with items like jars or vases)  with your index finger and see what kind of sound it makes..  Does it ring like a bell or is it a flat sound? A crack in a item  (even tiny ones) will make a very flat sound. Whereas a “good” item will ring clear.
  • If you are a collector, research the items you are collecting  so you know what a fair price is.  This comes with experience and from using resource books like the ones we have at the library.  Remember when using books to take into account how current the guide is, the condition of the item, and whether or not the item is the exact same one as the one in the guide.
  • It’s OK  to ask “can you do better on this”  to try to negotiate a better price..  The seller will be more likely to give you a price break if you buy several items.  How you negotiate is up to you, but please don’t be insulting in your offer.  And if it is a church/charity sale for a good cause negotiating  may not be in the best taste.
Helpful books from the Library

Garage Sale and Flea Market Annual by Collector Books
It includes tips on bargain hunting as well as a value guide to typical garage sale/flea market items.

Flea Market Trader by Collector Books
Designed to help the flea market shopper identify collectibles and market trends. book cover

Garage Sale America by Bruce Littlefield
Explores the cultural phenomenon of grass roots retailing, showcasing the people, places, and things of this modern day gold rush; reveals to readers the secrets to incorporating cheap but chic decorating into their lives. 

Flea Market Finds and How to Restore Them by Caroline Atkins
Browse in these pages to get the practical answers to the most frequently asked questions about what checks to make before purchasing from flea markets, which techniques to try when renovating your treasure, and how best to use the item in your decor


Some of my many roles at the Library include: Tax Form guru, Collectibles collection promoter, Inspirational fiction evangelist, Adult Literacy promoter, Book Group in a Bag cheerleader, So Many Books book discussion group leader, Reader's Advisor and many more.