So there’s this amazing flea market about 100 miles south of us, in Webster, Florida, which is only open on Mondays. It started out many years ago as a small farmer’s market and eventually grew to encompass over 40 acres and thousands of vendors offering every type of item imaginable. We plan a trip there at least once a year, in the fall or winter. If you arrive before 8:30 you can usually get one of the coveted free parking spots and get lots of shopping done before it gets too warm. We each take a vacation day from work and get up at 6:00 to make the long drive. It’s well worth it!
The market is, conveniently, divided into several areas of interest. One is, of course, the farmer’s market, where you can buy fruit, veggies, flowers, nuts, honey and homemade baked goods. Then there’s an area for vendors of “new” items, mostly imported stuff, including knock-offs of popular American brands that sell for a buck or two. We pretty much avoid that area, since we can walk into any dollar store and get the same kind of thing any day of the week. I always come for the interesting old stuff, while my husband is intrigued by the tools, guns and knives. He came this close to buying a very impressive (mostly decorative) katana for ten bucks, but his frugal nature got the better of him, as it usually does. Me, I’m not one for letting such practical considerations sully my shopping experience!
My favorite sections at the Webster market are those that sell garage sale type items (or what I like to think of as “junkpiles hiding treasures”), and the area for “vintage and antiques.” Some antique vendors want prices that are a little too much like retail, but there are many who will take ridiculously small amounts for their wares. Most of the vendors will bargain like crazy and you don’t have to do all that much to get them to come down. I’ve found that most of the time, all I have to do is say very little, and the vendor will talk themselves down! Which is what happened when I spotted this particular item sitting on the grass at one of the outdoor “junkpile” type vendors.
Hmmm. Porcelain roses, enameled metal leaves. Interesting. I glanced down and saw a tag tied on with sheer blue ribbon: “Vintage Chandelier: $75.00.” It was quite dirty and looked a little sad sitting on the ground, but I was intrigued. The vendor, a thin, pretty woman wearing a white lacy hat, called out, “I can take 50 for that.”
I hesitated. I had only brought $80 cash (very few vendors are set up to take credit), and this would cut way down on what else I could buy. Still, those blue flowers. I pictured it hanging in one of two places: over the dining room table or in our guest bedroom. Our entire house (with the exception of the guest bath, which is sage green) is decorated in blue and white.
“Does it work?” I asked. The woman came over and showed me the wiring and explained how it hooked into the ceiling. I said, “I just don’t know. I wonder if my husband would install it for me.” He had wandered off and I could see him in the distance, but couldn’t get his attention. Eagerly, the woman said, “I’d take 45 for it. And hold it so you wouldn’t have to walk around with it all day.”
Well, she’d had me at $50, honestly. I wonder even now how much further she would have come down if I’d not said, “Okay, I’ll take it,” at that moment. After getting home and doing some research, I realized that it was way underpriced even at $75. It’s an Italian tole design, enameled metal and porcelain, and in absolutely beautiful condition (after I scrubbed the dirt off). Even the reproductions of these chandeliers start at around $300. When we picked it up later, the vendor told me she’d had many shoppers ask about it, and on the long walk back to the car, people kept stopping my husband to ask where he’d gotten it and if there were any more! This morning, he hung it up in the dining room, where it looks absolutely amazing.
When it’s on, you don’t notice as much that it has three different kinds of bulbs! Four of them came from the old chandelier, one is from our kitchen drawer and the odd purple one was originally in there. Eventually we’ll get to a home improvement store and buy six that match.
While the chandelier was definitely the best bargain of the day, it was far from the only one. The second “price surprise” occurred at yet another outdoor “junkpile” vendor, who had lots of interesting old books and papers. I spotted a box of vintage greeting cards, very similar to this set I’d found at a thrift store last September:
The cover of the box was a little more plain:
But inside were some fabulous cards:
I asked the woman how much for the box, cringing a little because I figured it would be more than I’d want to spend. She took the box from me, opened it and said, “Well, aren’t these pretty.” I cringed some more. “How about two dollars,” she said. I stopped cringing. “I’ll take it!”
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I stopped at an indoor “antiques” vendor and came upon three Styrofoam boxes, each with three beautiful, delicate ballerina ornaments nestled inside. Since I love butterflies and pastel colors, this particular one caught my eye:
There were two vendors at this large booth, both affable men in their 60s, who shouted back and forth to each other when confirming (or possibly deciding) prices. I asked the taller one if the ornaments were sold separately, or if I had to buy the entire box. He shouted to the smaller one, who said they were “by the box.” My heart sank. I only wanted the green one, and didn’t want pay a premium to get it. Still, I forged on. “Okay, how much for the box?” Taller shouted again to Smaller: “How much for the box?” Smaller glanced over briefly (he was engaged in another transaction) and said, “How about three dollars?” “Three dollars,” said Taller.
What I was thinking: “Are you serious? Did I just dream that you said that?” What I actually said: “I’ll take it!”
After handing over my three dollars, the man slid the Styrofoam box into a cardboard sleeve which reads: “Heirloom Ornaments from Ashton-Drake: Viva Le Ballet.” Obviously it was one of those high-priced subscription-only “collectible” deals. So not only did I get this beauty:
…but these two as well:
In hindsight, I should have bought the other two boxes! My husband claimed the Pierrot ornament for himself as it looks like a jester, his favorite type of character. (What the heck; it was only a buck!)
The final bargain of the day wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t bad! I’m not sure why this guy selling modern jewelry was in the “antiques and vintage” building, but something made me stop anyway. I’m not a jewelry kind of gal personally, but I had spotted some Hello Kitty watches. One of the gals I work with is a huge Hello Kitty aficianado, and of course, Christmas isn’t all that far away.
The vendor told me everything in the booth was $2.50 or five for $10. (Did I want to know how he could sell a Hello Kitty watch for two bucks? I decided not to ask.) And then I really started looking around at that point. I could tell this stuff wasn’t any great shakes, but it looked good from a short distance and my mind went to “art supplies” rather than “jewelry.” I pictured the earrings dangling from ATCs and the beaded chains snipped into smaller pieces and used as elements on a collage. Two bucks each? Couldn’t beat it with a stick.
Webster Flea Market is a wonderful (and sometimes overwhelming) experience. There’s so much to see and great food as well (mostly carnival type stuff like ice cream, funnel cakes, popcorn, bratwurst, barbecue and hamburgers) and you just never know what you’ll find. Bonus: About 18 miles north (on our way home), in Wildwood, is a Russell Stover chocolate factory and outlet store! We got an entire grocery bag full of chocolate for $46, including big Valentine heart boxes for $1.25 (plain – retails for $7.99) and $2.50 (red velvet – retails for $15), strawberry whipped cream hearts for 24 cents each and “bloopers” (non-perfectly shaped pieces) of cherry cordials and pecan caramel “Millionaires” at half price. My favorite find was the sugar-free “snack bars” variety pack – chocolate and granola with other flavors like apple and blueberry, for $4.49 a box (retail is $6.99). I had recently discovered these, love them like crazy, and was thrilled to get them at a discount. Stock-up time! 🙂 Russell Stover also makes the Whitman’s brand (those beautiful “sampler” assortments) and the prices are better than you’ll find anywhere else.
Someone posted a great video of his Webster experience on YouTube, which captures just a small example of what you can expect. So the next time you plan a Florida vacation, take time off from the beaches and theme parks and plan a Monday side trip to Webster; it’s only 50 miles from Disney World and for the bargain shopping aficianado, well worth the trip!