Thrift stores and flea markets are found in abundance in Lake and Sumter counties. They’re great places to practice ‘the art of the deal.’
Thrift stores and flea markets are places where people go to buy unique items, and shopping at both is somewhat of an art form. Many people do it daily. Others just meander through for the fun of looking at the many different items all in one place. Whichever shopper you may be, you’re always looking for the best deal.
Jennifer Clark, of Tavares, is an expert. “Shopping has always been my thing,” Jennifer says. “I’ve always been a haggler, and I will walk away if I don’t get the price I want.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term “flea market” came from the French originally. A market in Paris that specialized in second-hand goods was called marché aux puces, which translates to “market of fleas.”
Though she does frequent thrift stores, Jennifer is happiest when she’s outdoors going from booth to booth at a flea market.
“You have to remember an item is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it,” Jennifer says. “That’s what you keep in mind as you’re going from booth to booth. And you have to be willing to walk away if you can’t get the price down to what you want. Remember, you want it; they want to sell it, and you’ve got to find a mutual area where you’re both happy.”
Jennifer says yard sales also are fun for haggling. “People have that stuff sitting in their yards because they’re ready to get rid of it,” she says. If they don’t really want to sell it, they’ll stick to their guns when it comes to the price, especially if it’s higher than it should be. “That’s the times when I usually walk away.”
She doesn’t always haggle, though. If she believes the item she wants is reasonably priced, she pays for it without question. However, to be a successful haggler, she says, you have to do enough of that kind of shopping to be able to look at an item and know its value.
“Some people will put some nice stuff out front just to lure shoppers in. It’s the old ‘bait and switch’ type of deal that many retailers do,” she says. “They advertise a refrigerator for a great price, but when you get there, they only had two of them, but they’ve got a great deal on a bigger, better item.”
The beauty of the bigger flea markets is the quantity and quality of vendors. Not only is there a great selection of items from each vendor, the variety of the vendors means better shopping.
Webster Westside Flea Market, 516 NW 3rd St., has been around for more than 50 years, and shoppers say it’s the place where you can find anything from jewelry, clothing, or boutique items to electronics, tools, or fresh produce. Not only can you get your fill of shopping, they have a great restaurant called Farmer’s Market Restaurant, where you can get a great buffet lunch.
Like the market in Webster, the Eustis Flea Market is one of the most popular in the area. It is also referred to as the Lake County Farmer’s and Flea Market. Peruse its Facebook page, and you’ll find comments from buyers and sellers who are happy with business here. The market is open from October through May at 2101 County Road 452, and always has huge crowds.
The North Lake Flea Market, 2557 U.S. Highway 441 in Fruitland Park, is open year-round. Vendors set up under the big oaks trees hanging with lacy Spanish moss, which means you won’t be out in the direct sun as much. Again, this is a popular market in the area where you’ll find all kinds of bargains. It’s open every week, Friday through Sunday.
One side note: if you’re really into shopping in thrift shops and flea markets, you can plan vacations around it. A number of travel agencies will set up a tour of “The Best Thrift Shops and Flea Markets” in places like Sicily or Cannes, France, or you can stay in the States and go to Nashville, Tennessee, or Maine.
Jennifer says if you’re going to a big event that’s set up for a special occasion, it may be best to wait and go on the last day.
“People are tired and want to pack as little as possible for the trip home. They’re willing to go low to get rid of it. You can find one-of-a-kind items for probably a third of the price,” she says.
If you do go during the early days and see an item you really like but don’t want to pay the higher price, get a phone number and call back near the end of the flea market. If the item is still available, it’s possible you’ll get a better price.
“Most people will haggle with you at yard sales,” Jennifer says. “Some won’t budge on their price, and, if it’s not worth it, that’s the time to walk away.”
Like most thrifty shoppers, Jennifer loves all the thrift stores in town. She and her partner, Lari Thaw, print two versions of “Savvy Shopper.” One is a “Thrift Directory for Leesburg, Lady Lake, Fruitland Park, & Beyond,” and the second is “Golden Triangle Thrift Directory.” They are free, and you can pick them up in most thrift shops. You’ll find addresses, phone numbers, and descriptions of the type of items the stores offer.
The good news is the variety of vintage and thrift stores is almost endless in this area. Vintage stores usually have retro items, old photos, clothing from another era, and possibly collectibles. You may also find old magazines, books, hats, and jewelry. Thrift stores have an array of essential items that are slightly used but mostly in good shape. You’ll find everything from kitchen items to furniture to electronics priced well below new items. Watch out for tags marked “as is,” and be sure to ask what that means.
Thrift-store shopping works well if you’re moving into a new dorm or getting your first apartment. Stores normally have bed frames, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, end tables, and most any furniture item you’d need.
Patricia Tracy owns Umatilla Southside Thrift Store & Flea Market at 749 S. Central Ave. Actually, when you go into this thrift store, you’ll probably see three generations of this family with grandmother, mom, and daughter available to help you.
“We’ve got a lot of regulars over the years,” Patricia says. “I’ve still got customers who started coming 18 years ago when we opened. We’ve got a little bit of everything.”
On Wednesday from 4-8pm and Friday and Saturday from 6am-1pm, they also stage an outdoor flea market, which brings in more customers.
“It’s a friendly atmosphere here, so people like it,” says Natilia Perkins, Patricia’s mother.
Patricia adds, “We have a lot of good customers, and we become friends with them. They make our best friends.”
LCM Thrift Store at 100 W. Ardice Ave., Suite 2A, in Eustis, also is a ministry—LCM stands for Life-Changing Ministry. The store is well organized and covers 23,000 square feet. There are plenty of large items like beds and sofas, clothing, jewelry, and decor items.
“I think it’s fun to see what has come and what I can use,” says Sue, a snowbird from Ohio, who was shopping with her friend Pam from Indiana. “I always come when I’m down here, and I always take things back home with me.”
However, this particular store is not only for shopping. A ministry of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, it is closed on Saturday, but bustling the rest of the week.
“We have lots of business, and we have a good crew working here,” says Jane Gibart, a volunteer at the store. “On Tuesdays, we have free food—bread and sweets. We have the most food on Wednesday and Sunday, when we have pizza and wings and fresh produce.”
Tracy Branch, of Umatilla, likes the large selection of items available at LCM Thrift Store. “You find stuff you don’t normally find—unique items,” she says. “I come once a week because you never know what you’re going to find, and if you don’t come, you might miss it.”
Treasure Mart is at 308 W. Ardice Ave., just down from LCM Thrift Store, which brings up another point Jennifer made: thrift stores are not competitive like other retailers. “They know people who like to shop in thrift stores are going to go to as many as they can. They don’t worry about it,” she says.
“We have people who come in nearly every day,” says Ashley Barnhart, of Treasure Mart. “Our Yeti cups are very popular because he buys the patterns I’ve never seen before. We sell a lot of jewelry, too, along with furniture, especially to small businesses.”
Michael Tedesco is assistant manager at Our Mother’s Attic is Wildwood, a ministry of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. He says the store also is busy every day. “Our proceeds provide for the food pantry and soup kitchen and for other outreach programs in the church, along with the Lazarus Clinic,” he says.
The Lazarus Clinic is a program of Catholic Charities of Central Florida and the San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado Mission.
In Lady Lake, Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe is operated by volunteers of The Villages Regional Hospital Auxiliary. “Our shop is always busy, and merchandise changes from one hour to the next,” assistant manager Curt Kroll says.
As shift leader, Joan Wicklas manages the volunteers who work at the store. “We have regulars who come in all the time. I had a fashion show using clothes from the shop at one of the recreations centers, and one of the ladies wore her own clothes in the fashion show, and donated them later,” Joan says. “People come in often because we sell items quickly. It usually comes in and goes out the same day.”
Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe, at 106 W. Lady Lake Blvd., is a nonprofit organization, and proceeds go to provide equipment and items needed at The Villages Regional Hospital.
Don’t forget the back side of the thrift stores: it’s a great place to donate good, usable items. You can get a tax form so you can claim your donation on your taxes, and you can help a charitable organization at the same time.
It’s time to do spring cleaning or maybe you’re ready get new furniture, and a thrift shop is one of the best places to donate items. Of course, you can always have your own garage or yard sale and enjoy the fun of haggling with buyers on a sunny Florida day.
10 tips for successful garage or yard sales
- Once you’ve decided what to sell, be sure it’s clean.
- Get the word out and be sure people know what you’ve got to sell. Include photos of your best items.
- Think like a retailer. Display your items so they catch the eye of the shopper.
- Wrap small items together with plastic wrap, twine, or ribbon.
- Have lots of tables so people don’t have to bend down or get uncomfortable.
- Hang clothing for easy access.
- Similar items, such as purses, jewelry, toys, etc., can be grouped together.
- Make it fun: use balloons, have music, maybe even offer snacks or drinks.
- Have some items that are free, things you probably would donate anyway.
- Decide on a time when prices will be slashed. No need to keep anything.
Tips for donating items to thrift stores
- Always wash any clothing before donating it.
- Be sure any utensils, dishes, or cookware are usable and do not have chips, cracks, or dents in them.
- Be sure furniture is not broken or stained, and that items such as recliners, sofa beds, or swivel rockers do not have parts that don’t work.
- If you want a tax deduction, be sure to ask for paperwork. Most stores offer it freely; however, it must be a registered nonprofit organization.
- Many of the larger organizations or stores will send a truck to your home to pick up large items such as furniture, TVs, automobiles, or boats.
Tips for buying clothing at flea markets and thrift stores
- Search pockets and other hidden places for objects.
- When you wash the clothes, add baking soda to absorb any odors.
- Look closely for stains, tears, and care instructions for material.
- Be careful with vintage clothing. It can easily be ruined. You may want to hand-wash. Beware of putting used clothing, especially vintage clothing, in the dryer.
- Check the laundry instruction tag to be sure of correct water temperature.