Paris fleamarkets | May Daze | Paris Closeups

Saint-Ouen flea market
© Bob Bishop
Best buys and bargains in Paris
by Jeanne Feldman

Finding deals a Paris’ flea markets

The major flea markets (“marchés aux puces”) in Paris are run by licensed dealers. So, although the prices are lower than in antique and secondhand stores, they reflect this fact. If you really want to look carefully and seriously (“chiner”) at rummage sales (“brocantes”), you might want to find out where the non-professionals are. There are two excellent French magazines where, even if you don’t read the language, you can check out the lists at the back. Look for the word “foire” (fair) which means that normal everyday people can sell off their goods without the usual bureaucratic hassles. Also be on the lookout for “vide-greniers” (attic sales, I guess they have more attics than garages!).
Both magazines can be found at any newsstand. One is called “Aladin” which, besides lists of all the flea markets and “foires” in Paris and throughout France, has articles with tips on how to look for secondhand goods, and advice on collecting. It appears once a month. The other publication which is really more of a newspaper, comes out every Friday and is called “La vie du collectionneur.” It concentrates on “how” and “what” to collect, spotlighting the latest “in” items.
While wandering around Paris, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a sign saying “Grande Braderie,” posted outside a church. Rejoice! You have just found a church rummage sale, a great place to uncover real bargains, usually located in the “crypte” (don't worry — that means the church basement!). It’s well worth the effort to circle around the church to find the entrance.
Be prepared to pay with cash rather than a check or credit card so you can negotiate a bit. Many merchants will lower their prices, at the end, by 20 to 30%, although it helps to have an idea of their “range,” to begin with. Speaking of cash, keep it carefully hidden as there are usually gangs of pickpockets who circulate around all the flea markets.

Puces de Saint-Ouen

Open on Saturday (from between 8 and 9am to around 5:30 or 6:30pm) and Sunday (from about 9 or 10am to 5:30 or 6:30pm), as well as on Monday (from between 9 and 11am to 5 or 6:30pm) – all times very ish – Saint-Ouen’s flea markets are just to the north of Paris, M° Porte de Clignancourt. Take your time to wander around and enjoy the atmosphere, bearing in mind that Friday is “dealers day”.
What I like about this flea market, the biggest in the world, is the sense of being in another place and time, far away from the “real” world. You’ll have a sense of being removed from everyday reality, and the more you wander, the better it gets. This may compensate for the fact that you probably won’t find super bargains here, although the prices are lower than inside Paris proper. You also have all the advantages of buying from authorized dealers (like – if anything comes up later, you know where to find them!).
The official market is organized into sub-markets, each with its own character and ambience. City walls used to separate Paris from its outskirts, and many of the poorer people who lived on the “other side” sold junk and old clothes to survive. Plus, there, they escaped city taxes! By the 1880s customers were already coming from the capital in search of secondhand items. Around 1920, when the walls were destroyed, the dealers organized themselves into official markets and sub-markets. As you browse around, you’ll also spot private businesses among these.

Saint-Ouen’s Clignancourt “mini markets”

Marché Biron 85 rue des Rosiers. The fanciest, most formal and elegant market, Biron has genuine antiques and a good selection of furniture.

Marché Cambo
75 rue des Rosiers. Although considered “serious” and selling genuine antiques, Cambo is a little less fancy than Biron. It’s a bit hard to find, so look for the entrance opposite “Marson Beys,” one of the private markets.

Marché Jules Vallès
7-9 rue Jules Vallès. Not as reliable as some of the other markets, Jules Vallès has lower prices for good, old-fashioned rummaging.

Marché Paul Bert
96 rue des Rosiers and 18 rue Paul Bert. Begun just after World War II, Paul Bert is regarded by many to be the best market. Here you can find good deals if you have a good eye.

Marché Serpette
110 rue des Rosiers. Serpette is dark, formal, fancy and has genuine antiques.

Marché Vernaison
99 rue des Rosiers. This large and varied market is the oldest.

Puces de Vanves

On avenue Georges Lafenestre and Marc Sangnier, in the 14th arrondissement (M° Porte de Vanves). Open on Saturday and Sunday from 7am (ish). This is one of Paris’ top flea markets, relaxed and informal with its combination of licensed and un-licensed dealers sitting behind tables set up on the sidewalk. You can find an enormous selection of bric-à-brac. This is just a partial list of what you can find: buttons, miniature cars, old books, puppets, jewelry, chests of drawers, paintings, military medals, religious statues, bird cages, top hats, plus teddy bears in various states of disrepair. At one end of the market, trees overhang the street, so you can hear birds singing in the background as you stroll along. “Quelle atmosphere!” If you want to retain your image of quaint and charming Paris, come to this market!

Summertime at flea market
© Bob Bishop