At the beginning of June, my very good friend and client, Liz Lewis Haller, and I spent a day at the Paris Flea Market, known as “Les Puces de Saint-Ouen” or simply “Les Puces.” It is a world-famous and vibrant marketplace for antique and vintage finds. A pickers delight!
If you know me, you know I love a good flea market and have been to many. I found that Les Puces Flea Market is similar to those in the States with one exception. It’s huge!
Simply put, Les Puces Flea Market is a small city. There are 14 different markets, each with its own flavor if you will. Crammed into each of these 14 neighborhoods are hundreds of shops crammed along winding streets and alleys. Inside each stall or shop are piles of treasures for visitors to mine through. This article is written with the first-time visitor in mind. Without further adieu, let’s go seeking treasure!
Do Your Research
Before visiting Les Puces Flea Market, take some time to research these different sections and stalls to get an idea of what you’re looking for. The market is quite large, so having a plan will help you navigate more efficiently. Popular areas include Marché Vernaison, Marché Paul Bert, or Marché Dauphine. Use Instagram’s search function to help plan!
The early bird catches the worm at Les Puces Flea Market. Arriving as soon as it opens allows you to explore the market before it gets too crowded, and you might find some unique items before they’re picked up by other shoppers. Remember, Les Puces is the world’s most famous flea market. That means that shoppers come from all over.
Bargain and Negotiate
Haggling is an integral part of most flea market experiences. The same can be said for Les Puces Flea Market. Ask the price as most items don’t have a tag, “Combien ça coûte?” Most vendors were very receptive to us asking, “Is this price firm?” or “Ce prix est-il ferme?” Be polite but firm, and be prepared to walk away if you can’t reach a mutually agreeable price. And feel free to put some drama into it, “Oh no! That is too expensive and I still have to ship it back to the States!” And if you see a vendor eating their lunch, please don’t bother them, come back.
It’s always a good idea to ask the seller what they know about the piece: where is it from, what year (l’année) was it crafted, how did you acquire it, and what are the materials used. Carefully record the information and file it away or if it is a piece of wall art, write the information on a piece of paper and insert it into an envelope. Adhere that envelope to the back of the piece. If you or your estate plan to sell these items someday, this information will come in particularly handy. Similarly, if you had the piece framed, keep your paid invoice as it will increase its value.
There are a few things you can do.
If you’re looking for specific items or have a particular interest, don’t hesitate to ask the vendors for their recommendations. Almost everyone you encounter at Les Puces Flea Market will be very friendly and willing to help you. For instance, Liz was keen on purchasing a French tapestry. A lovely vender closed her shop to personally escort us to a tapestry shop.
Most importantly, take your time at Les Puce Flea Market. Only purchase items that you genuinely love or find valuable. Les Puce Flea Market is not only about shopping; it’s also about immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere, interacting with vendors, and discovering hidden treasures. Soak in the ambiance, enjoy a cup of coffee at a café nearby, and savor the unique experience of the flea market.
While some vendors may accept credit cards, it’s always safer to have cash on hand. Many sellers prefer cash transactions, and having smaller bills can make bargaining easier. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, bring cash with you to Les Puces Flea Market. While there are a few ATMs, there will always be a long line, not to mention difficulty in finding them. Think about getting directions in French with a series of hand gestures meant to direct you through alleys. Also, keep in mind that your bank may have daily caps on how much cash you can withdraw. Call your bank and plan your withdrawals accordingly.
And finally, before you walk away from a transaction because you lack the cash (that would require a wild goose chase to find the ATM), simply ask the vendor if they take PayPal or Venmo. They very well may and you would save yourself some valuable time. Phew!
By now, you have figured out that Les Puces Flea Market involves a lot of walking! So wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers, as the market can get crowded and warm. Additionally, bring a tote bag or backpack to carry your purchases. I brought along this roomy, and very stylish, Parisian market bag!
And finally – and not to stress you out – remember that you have to transport your purchases back home, so consider the size and weight of the items. But don’t despair, if something is just too big, you can always ship it! Les Puces Flea Market has a list of shippers on its website.