This is my little blog about all the wonderful and quirky stuff I see while hanging out at different flea markets and thrift stores in France.
Monday, June 23, 2008
An afternoon visit to the thrift store
Today I spent a couple of hours at one of my favorite thrift stores. Most French thrift stores are nothing like American stores. The buying process is convoluted, it's dusty and dirty, and there's no nicey-nice customer service orientation like you get (more or less) at places like Goodwill. Yet, the crowds come. This particular store is only open for a few hours every afternoon, and you can see the line of people waiting to get in right before it opens.
There's a furniture section; a shoes section; children's and adult clothing; what they deem to be "nice" porcelain and glassware; a different section for crap pottery, mugs and knicknacks; toys; and books. That's not an exhaustive summary. Whenever you find something you like, you bring it up to the guy (it's almost always a guy) at the desk, he eyeballs your stuff, makes up a price on the spot according to how much money he thinks you have, and writes it on a piece of paper. He puts your stuff in a plastic bag and puts it under his desk while you go with your piece of paper to pay for your purchase at a central cash register, in line behind 500 million other people who are doing the same thing. Then you go back and show your receipt and retrieve your stuff. Rinse and repeat for every section where you want to buy something.
Today I found some super-cute vintage dish towels from the 60s: a couple of 1961 calendars with illustrations of the seasons, one of a working woman who can put together a meal in 10 minutes thanks to her trusty meat grinder, and a few celebrating French cheese, French wine and beer (I can definitely get behind those).
I'm an American mother of 3. I've been living in the suburbs of Paris for 15 years. Visiting thrift stores and flea markets is my passion!
French antiques are beautiful, but they're not my thing. I can't afford them anyway! What I'm interested in are the weird or offbeat items you can only find at an open air market or in a thrift store. If there's an item you're interested in looking for, let me know!
Where can you get vintage and other secondhand items in France?
First, there are flea markets (marché aux puces), which are similar in nature to their US equivalents; professional sellers have a stand on a regular basis and sell their wares there.
There are no individual garage sales in France, but it is very common for towns to hold a once-yearly brocante - a huge group garage sale where people get a yard or two of selling space and sell whatever they want. You can find professional sellers at these events, and also lots of everyday people getting rid of their stuff. There are usually 100 to 500 stands at a brocante. When the overwhelming majority of sellers are non-professionals emptying the contents of their attics and basements, this is called a "vide-greniers" (literally, attic emptying!). There are treasures to be found at all of these!
Brocantes often take place in small towns and villages. Usually the town blocks off a few of the main streets and sellers set up their tables there. Often the setting is superbly picturesque, along centuries-old winding streets. They start at the crack of dawn, so be prepared to get up early! But all is not lost. Towards the end of the day prices drop dramatically and there are still some great bargains to be had.
Thrift stores are not as numerous in France as they are in the US. They are dusty and the customer buying experience, shall we say, is not a priority. But you can find clothes, sometimes gorgeous vintage ones, for a euro or two, and some great vintage and antique glassware, porcelain and decorative items. Some thrift stores are expensive, some are not.