Rookie salesman at flea market bumbles to glory

DAN RODRICKS

October 06, 1992|By DAN RODRICKS

How is it that I made $220 at my first flea market table?

I have connections in Columbia. I have suburban yuppie friends who, it appears, have never given anything away. But they are all beyond the age of 40 -- the time of life when men and women, having spent adulthood accumulating stuff, start to let go.

Saturday afternoon, they let go. We're talking quality merchandise here!

A 6-by-9 Bukhara-like wool pile rug, a pair of scratched KLH speakers, a collection of Playboy tankards and beer mugs, a genuine hand-painted Taiwanese hurricane lamp and a brass-plated doll cradle were among the scraps I took from the garages in my friends' Columbia cul-de-sac.

But the highlights -- we're talking jewels in the crown here -- were the ugliest green vase anyone has ever seen (2 feet tall and shaped like a bowling pin) and a set of three liquor decanters, one shaped like a Cossack strumming a balalaika (for vodka), one shaped like a Highlander (for scotch) and one shaped like a Kentucky colonel (for bourbon). Marvelous items I was tempted to purchase myself.

To this I added my own stash: A wooden-and-brass chandelier, a framed gold-on-black print of galloping horses, my entire collection of skinny neckties, a never-worn Bert Pulitzer silk sport coat, eight feet of telephone cord, a couple of straw baskets, eight porcelain custard cups and a small wooden corner bric-a-brac shelf.

Two friends from Linthicum contributed a vast collection of junk, including a used coffee maker, outmoded computer accessories, a pair of woman's gold shoes and, best of all, a yellow 1960s classic fondue set, with a little chip on the side of the pot.

I was ready for market.

I took my stuff to Friends School, site of FallFest 1992, a fund-raiser to support the work of the Midtown Churches Community Association. MCCA operates shelters and a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless in Baltimore.

Any money I made off the table went to MCCA, and I constructed a sign saying as much.

Perhaps this contributed to my banner rookie day as a flea market merchant.

Perhaps not.

The serious flea market junkies were on scene before most of the vendors had set up. The market was scheduled to open at 10 a.m.

I got there at 9:30, and so did the junkies. As I scrambled to set up my table, I heard a rotund woman say, "You're running late by most standards."

Standards? I didn't know flea markets had standards. "Come on, man, get with it," another junkie snapped. "Everyone knows the only way to get the best stuff is to go early."

Barely had I taken the Playboy tankards from their box when a man held up a pewter stein and asked, "How much for this?"

How much? I hadn't even thought about price. "I don't know, sir," I said. "How about $5?" He became suddenly dismayed, put the mug down and walked away.

"How much for this?" a middle-aged woman asked, pointing to the gold-on-black galloping horses.

"You want to buy that?" I asked. "Gee, I dunno. $5?"

"Sold," she said.

OK, so maybe my pricing wasn't very artful. I had my first sale. I dropped the price of all mugs to $2. I dusted off the ugly green vase and stood it on the table. Five minutes later, a woman declared she was in love with it and wanted to know my price.

"You tell me," I said. "I couldn't begin to put a price tag on such a priceless work of art. In fact, it's beneath me."

"Five dollars?" she asked.

"Sold."

Wow! It wasn't even 10 o'clock and I had made $10.

The decanter figurines went next. The Cossack, the Highlander and the Kentucky colonel brought $25. Incredible! My wood-and-brass chandelier went for $20!

We sold a few of the mugs, the computer accessories, even the hand-painted Taiwanese hurricane lamp! I couldn't give the Bert Pulitzer sport coat away, but the Bukhara-like rug went for $100.

The major score of the day, however, came in the late afternoon. A young man with a child and wife in tow bought the classic yellow 1960s fondue set for $3. High-five me, baby! I think I have a future in this business!

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