After years of working with old books and paper, it always surprises me how much I enjoy getting out and hunting at flea markets, antique shows and estate sales. The Antique Mall can yield a gem or two here and there, but for the most part you really have to be willing to buy what average America buys. Why else would it be in an antique mall??? Flea markets, if they’re worth their salt, can be a treasure trove in the hunt for books, but especially for old paper. You know, the stuff that most folks walk past and can’t imagine didn’t hit the street on Monday for the neighborhood trash pick-up. It is just this sort of “trash” that can make the day for a guy like me. Wicker basket full of old travel brochures… Some look at the wicker basket, I am looking for striking images and dates…
While hunting at these places can be rewarding as well as a lot of fun, what about selling at them? First thing is that you have to keep in mind that it is mostly about price. Flea markets and antique shows are going to have buyers, but how do you get into their pockets? PRICE! There is a love / hate relationship here as you might imagine. I love getting rid of stuff that I’m not into anymore, but I hate having to sell it at a price that makes me feel like a horrible scout. Why did I buy that anyway???
The antique show side has just become a part of my wheelhouse over the last few years. I solemnly believe that the more dealers you have, the better the crowd and sales will be. I solemnly believe that it is better to have 20 guys selling books than 2. At an antique show, versus an Antiquarian Book Fair, there are usually only a few guys selling books and paper. I know that dealers have told me that some of their best shows of the year are Antique Shows, but I could never really grasp this. I suppose the key is really just a good show and persistence. A good show means that you have buyers (and maybe even a good cheeseburger). While someone shops for silver, someone shops for books. Persistence is what dealers like Mike Slicker of Lighthouse Books have in abundance. Good or bad, he seems to make a pledge to give a show years of effort when most of us would simply give up. By the sight of his (busy) booth at a few of these shows, I suppose his persistence has led to a stream of regular customers. It’s like the guy who sells fresh shrimp out of the cooler in front of the Factory Outlets in St. Augustine. Not exactly the type of goods you would expect to find and/or are prepared to buy if you just went to browse for a good deal on a Polo shirt, but he gets business. His presence has become known. His persistence made a great sales spot out of a corner of a parking lot that has nothing to do with food sales.
This year, and for the rest of my life, I’m following the business model of the shrimp guy… I’m carving out my spot in the parking lot!