Paris Flea Markets and Thrift Stores
When I lived in a small apartment, I had to dial down buying everything. As folks in Paris say: “Something in, something out” – meaning that if you brought something in, you had to get rid of something to make room for it. I lived ”smaller,” with fewer things, which was great because I pared down my collecting, and kept only what was essential.
What a difference a few years, and a few more square meters, make. And now that I’ve got some more space in my apartment after moving a couple of years ago, I’m hitting the vide-greniers and brocantes again, scooping up odds and ends. (And looking for places to put everything, all over again. *sigh*) When I put photos on my Instagram stream as I wandered the markets recently, the invariable question comes up: “Where are you?” So in response to folks that want to know where I shop, this listing is for you.
The bad news is that there are relatively few bargains in Paris. The good news is, that’s not exactly true. There’s plenty of stuff that people get rid of because it’s old-fashioned or not needed, so it is possible to pick up vintage cookware, linens, and other things that locals cast off. And I’m happy to buy them!
I’ve developed a bit of a “bottom feeder” mentality and avoid the traditional flea markets, the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (usually referred to as the Marché Clignancourt), and the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, and stick to the brocantes that pop up in Paris during nice weather in the neighborhoods. Prices are much lower and it’s more fun to see what pops up as people are unloading their trucks. Below are tips on how to find them, as it’s not obvious to visitors (and some locals). Though I didn’t used to mind spending money on things, I am now more selective (and maybe more French?) and have become radin (cheap), focusing on things that are truly bargains.
It’s good to know the nomenclature. Flea markets (Marchés aux puces) refers to the larger, fixed-location markets in Paris, but it’s the brocantes and vide-greniers that I find the most interesting. Basically, a brocante is an open-air sale that includes professional dealers, but they’re lower priced than the fancy antiquaire markets and exhibitions. Most brocantes in Paris are a mix of dealers and particuliers, or individuals, who are non-professionals.
Garage sales and sidewalk sales aren’t permitted in France, so vide-greniers, or “empty the attic” sales, are the closest equivalent. These are collective sales held in various neighborhoods and folks in the quartier bring objects that they want to sell. These can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s a lot of plastic children’s toys, other times, people are cleaning out their kitchens, and you can score. A braderie refers to a sale where things are marked down and there are rarely professionals, and a braderie often refers to a sale when things are sold rummage sale-style. (For the sake of discussion, I’m just going to refer to outdoor flea markets as brocantes, as they are referred to in Paris.)
At the brocantes, the best deals are in the boxes (and boxes) of stuff that people just bring out and let shoppers have a go at. You can find great stuff, from pâté molds and butcher knives, to well-loved tart pans, French cake molds, and colorful gratin dishes, often priced as low as fifty cents. In order to find the good stuff, you need to carefully pick through them – often on your hands and knees . . . and I have the bruised knees to prove it!
Each brocante in Paris has a different personality. At some, the dealers are brusque and expensive. Professionals might stock their stands with vintage linens and beautiful French dishtowels, while others might specialize in ‘60s to‘80s cookware, or French Bakelite household items. Then there are the people that just show up with a van and put everything out willy-nilly. Recently at a brocante on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, I found one fellow selling a bunch of French glassware, which I used to collect, and picked up when I came across them. Each glass was €20, and the guy wasn’t budging. He had about a dozen of them and I suppose if I took the whole lot, he may have dropped the price a tad. But even Romain, who can be very persuasive in that Parisian way, didn’t have any luck.
Other merchants were more buyer-friendly, and just trying to make a little money by selling stuff. So after moving past those fancy glasses, I picked through some boxes and brought home this sweet little collection of glassware for only €3.20. So there are bargains. You just have to find them. (And you often have to unearth them yourself as it took a bit of digging to find all four of those glasses.)
I’ve been having a good time lately exploring not just the brocantes, but the thrift stores, mostly the ones outside of Paris. (Same with dépôt-ventes, which are what we consider bric-a-brac stores, and you’ll find some in Paris but the better ones are outside of town.) You’ll need a car to get to them as they’re not located near public transit. But if you have the urge to go, you can rent a car and hit one (or all) of the three Emmaüs stores I give below.
Emmaüs is a benevolent organization that performs a number of services in France, including operate places where people donate items for sale. Proceeds from the items sold in their stores across France go to helping the less fortunate. In Paris, there are Emmaüs shops dotted throughout the city, selling everything from clothing to cookware. Because they’re in the city, bargains get snapped up quickly, although I scored a €5 cassole for making cassoulet at the one on Boulevard Beaumarchais (#22), right next to the trendy Marais. So it pays to stick your head in if you’re out sightseeing.
Even better are their massive stores outside of Paris; the best being Emmaüs Bougival, close to where many well-off people live, to the west of Paris. Also near Paris is the bi-annual Foire de Chatou, an open-air flea market and ham fair, that takes place in the fall and in the spring, and has a free shuttle from the RER A station.
There are a few other Emmaüs stores to the east of Paris, outside of the city, that I’ve been rummaging through as well. I always rifle through the silverware, looking for interesting things. (Although I’ve learned to use one of the spatulas on top to avoid being impaled during a dangerous game of pick-up-sticks.)
Plates are stacked and stacked on top of each other. Some are ugly and new, but digging through them, you can likely score – well, sometimes!
And sometimes they arrange things along a theme, like Provence.
I recently found a much-used butcher knife, that’s been pretty honed down to almost nothing over the years…and a glass to add to my cocktail glass collection (which they threw in my bag – for free!)…
My latest obsession is trying to find a cool salad serving set to replace the Danish modern utensils I have, that no one else can use without flinging salad all over the place. Until I find the perfect one, I’m collecting pieces one-by-one, hoping to find their mates. (If anyone finds the spoon part to that stainless-steel number, let me know.)
However, I did come upon a salad server set for just €3, which was a good value considering the size, which just I might have to use in the meantime. Well, after a good scrubbing.
Paris Flea Markets
There are two well-known flea markets in Paris; the massive Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, or Marché Clignancourt, which is open Saturday (9am-6pm), Sunday (10am-6pm), and Monday (11am-5pm). It’s said to be the largest flea market in the world, although it tends to feel (and be priced) more like a series of antique stores, rather than a flea market. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a real bargain here.
(Tip: Leave anything valuable at home. The flea market is located in what is not the best part of Paris and less-savory types tend to know that tourists with money and passports are coming to the area. And it’s no fun to discover that you’re passport was lifted while you were shopping.)
To get there, take the line 4 métro to Porte de Clignancourt. Upon leaving the métro station, there are a lot of stands selling clothing and cheap imported junk. That’s not the flea market. (There are excellent directions here.) The main markets are on the Rue des Rosier, the Marché Serpette and Marché Paul Bert, and the Marché Jules Vallée. The latter is more likely to have bargains.
(Tip: For those interested in culinary items, Bachelier Antiquités specializes in copper cookware, pottery, and culinary tools. You won’t find bargains but they stock some rather amazing items.)
The other weekly flea market is the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, which is a good jumble of things in many categories. It takes place Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 2pm. To get there take the métro to Porte de Vanves (line 13) and follow folks walking the couple of blocks to the flea market. For the best selection, arrive early in the morning. For better prices, go Sunday afternoon, as folks are closing up.
There are two smaller flea markets that get less attention than the major ones. The first is in the center of the open air Marche d’Aligre, which takes place daily (except Monday), and also happens to be one of Paris’ best food markets. There is a lively mix of items from small-scale dealers, and particuliers, who haul out cases of various things set up on makeshift tables in the square, adjacent to where the market is held. Most are eager to sell, and you’ll often find me picking through the boxes on the ground for the best deals.
Another flea market, although less interesting, is the Porte de Montreuil, which takes place Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, from 7am to 7:30pm. I’ve not found this to be a great flea market, unless you’re looking for old tools, electrical extension cords, t-shirts, dicey designer knock-offs, and tube socks. But as they say…ya never know.
Brocantes, Vide-Greniers, and Braderies in Paris
These are roving flea markets and each one has its own personality, with items at various prices points. At most of them, you’ll find plenty of low-priced things as well as mid-range and up. They don’t have fixed weekly addresses but occur at various times throughout the year (except in the winter) and you’ll need to look them up. Sometimes signs are also posted in advance in the various neighborhoods, which you’ll see around town. Generally speaking if they list the sale as Antiquities (only), the flea market will be more established dealers. When they use (or add) the word Brocante, it’ll be a mix.
These sales are often listed on the Paris.fr website under Fairs & Trade Shows and some of the more upscale ones are listed at the website of Joël Garcia, an organization that sponsors large antique expositions in Paris. Dates are listed on their website, and their antique fairs feature middle- to high-end items, although they can be worth a look, especially the ones that take place in the Bastille. I scored a great old French metal pastry shop sign at one for €100 a while back, which wasn’t dirt-cheap, but there was no way I was leaving that behind.
(Tip: Paris is in the Île-de-France region and départment 75 is Paris.)
In addition, Brocbrac has an app, as does Vide-Greniers.org. (Android only), to help find the brocantes on-the-go. And you can also set email or SMS alerts at L’Agenda des Brocantes and Brocabrac, to notify you of upcoming brocantes and flea markets.
(Tip: Particularly good is the biannual brocante that sprawls out in the streets around the Marie de 3ème, or City Hall in the 3rd, which takes place the first weekend in June and the last weekend in November.)
During the summer months, many towns and villages outside for Paris, on the Île-de-France (within a 1-2 hour radius of Paris), hold flea markets (which they will list as a braderie or brocante), and those are listed on the above websites. Many are very interesting and great places for unearthing treasures.
Paris is not a city teeming with thrift stores. True, there are plenty of antique stores and dépôt-ventes (stores where sometimes people drop things off on consignment – but are not always run that way anymore), but due to lack of space, there are not the giant warehouse-like thrift stores you’ll find in some cities elsewhere.
(Tip: There is an antique collective, Belle Lurette, located in what is called the “Village Popincourt” at 5 rue Marché Popincourt, in the 11th. In the Village Saint-Paul, in the 4th, there is a cluster of antique shops in the courtyard. Nearby is Au Petit Bonheur La Chance, which sells vintage housewares.)
Emmaüs has small stores scattered around various neighborhoods in Paris. (Yelp has a good listing of their addresses.) Because they are in the city, anything good gets snapped up quickly. Bargain hunters might want to rent a car and visit their large shops outside of the city. The best are:
–Neuilly-Plaisance (38, avenue Paul Doumer)
–Neuilly-sur-Marne (15, boulevard Louis Armand)
–Bougival (7, lieu dit Île de la loge)
The Emmaüs stores just outside of Paris span several buildings, each one featuring a different category, i.e.: housewares, hardware, kitchen supplies, children’s toys. In addition to regular housewares, they have a special section of “better quality” tableware and glassware, at higher prices than in the other areas of their stores, but you can score sets of very nice wine glasses, flatware, and dinnerware at still-reasonable prices.
(Tip: The Bougival Emmaüs is accessible by the RER A train, which stops 1km, or a half-mile, from the store. A map and directions are on their website.)
Other benevolent organizations hold braderies and brocantes from time-to-time: Secours Populaire Française is one, and the other is the Armée du Salut (Salvation Army). Both sites require a bit of digging, so you might be better off typing the name of the organization and the word “braderie” or “brocante” into a search engine, along with “Île-de-France,” which includes Paris and the surrounding area. Almost all of them are outside of the city.
In Montreuil is Neptune, which is outside of Paris but walkable from the Mairie de Montreuil métro station. Opening hours are on their website.
– Although thrift stores take credit cards, outdoor brocante dealers only take cash.
– When searching for flea markets on websites, note that some specialize in single items: Fripperie and vente de vêtements or bourse aux vêtements means the sale is vintage and/or used clothing. Timbres are stamp (and often coin) dealers, cartes postales are postcard, livres ancien et d’occasion are used and rare books, and biffins are cast-offs, such as used electrical cords, sneakers, and other odds-and-ends that the sellers usually have picked up off the street. (Usually the items at these sales are not of interest to visitors.)
– Always bring small bills. No one ever has change, and if they do, it seems like a herculean effort to give any back to you. (I think because people like taking money, but not giving it back.) Plus, if you’re haggling over something, and whittling someone down in price to save a few euros – then hand them a €50 for a €3 purchase, it can be awkward – especially if you’ve gotten them to reduce the price by telling them you’re low on funds. I bring a lot of €2 coins, which make you a “golden” customer.
– Be aware that just because something in France looks old, it may not be. Many things, including café items (wine carafes, beverage glasses, water pitchers, jam jars, etc) that look retro, may have either been re-issued or have been in continuous production since the 50s or 60s. So some things that look “vintage” may be new. A reputable dealer will know the difference and let you know, but not everyone selling items does (or will tell you.) As always, it’s buyer beware.
– Bargaining is acceptable. At outdoor markets, you can sometimes negotiate a 10-30 percent discount. Chances of successful bargaining happen later in the day, before closing time…although don’t let something slip away from you over a few euros if you really want it. (Trust me.)
(I’ve never seen anyone bargain in the Emmaüs stores in Paris, but do see it at their larger stores outside of the city, where prices are more flexible. In fact, often things aren’t marked and you just gather what you want and bring them to the clerk, and who gives you a ticket with the total amount on it that you must bring to a central cashier, then return with the proof of payment they’ll give you to pick up your stuff.)
– It’s a good idea to carry a decent amount of l’argent liquide, or cash, in case you find something amazing that needs to be bought right on the spot – or their credit card machine, or the local ATM, is broken. (Which happens, and you don’t want to be stuck not being able to buy an extraordinary find.) For shopping at outdoor markets, hide large amount of cash and big bills somewhere that’s not your wallet or purse, since it’s not a good idea to flash a lot of cash around the flea markets and brocantes.
– Keep an eye out for pickpockets. It’s unfortunate, but some of the flea markets are known for them, especially the market at Clignancourt.
– Don’t carry a fancy handbag or dress too smartly. A Chanel bag or Patek Philippe watch reduces your bargaining leverage.
– Prices seem to go up when antique dealers hear an American or foreign accent. I will often mumble “Combien?” (“How much?”) rather than use a longer phrase, which will give me away. (Or I have my French partner ask.) An opposite strategy (heck, there’s no science to this) is to immediately greet the dealer with a polite “Bonjour monsieur” or “Bonjour madame” when entering their booth, which might give your provenance away, but you score points for politesse.
– Avoid picking something up and excitedly asking the dealer the price with a big grin. Instead, act nonchalant and a bit uninterested, and don’t smile when asking the price.
(Tip: No matter what the price, high or low, if you want to act like a local, always respond as if the price is ridiculously high – even if it isn’t. Stand there and consider their response before buying anything, especially if you want to buy other items from the same dealer. And yes, if you buy more things from one person, generally you can request a better price.)
– Never, ever put anything down if you actually want it – the moment you do, it’s considered fair game for someone else to grab it. People will want something just because you showed interest in it, like the massive, gorgeous vintage mortar and pestle that was just sitting there at the Marché d’Aligre last week. It had a few fissures and I was on my bike, so after going back-and-forth in my mind a bit, I put the hefty €20 fellow down. As soon as I did, a foreign dealer jabbering on his cell phone, who saw that I was interested in it, swooped in and grabbed it before I could change my mind. Merde!
– Restrooms are rare at outdoor markets, so you may need to use one in a café. Expect to have to buy a beverage to use the restroom.
– Bring a sturdy, large shopping bag when heading out on the hunt. Some dealers will have flimsy plastic bags, but they aren’t comfortable for long-term bargain hunting. And thrift stores outside of Paris expect you to bring your own. Most supermarkets in Paris sell large, reusable shopping bags suitable for the purpose. The best are at the large Leroy Merlin hardware shop, located at Beaubourg in Paris. Their bags have regular-sized handles, as well as shoulder straps, and are wide enough to hold large items (like a large mortar and pestle…), and sturdy and comfortable enough to carry heavy – or multiple – objects.
– Good luck!
And by the way, the salad set cleaned up nicely…don’t you think?
French Flea Market Vocabulary (French Today)