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These days, “Paris flea market” is as much of a place as it is a state of mind. The phrase conjures up images of old clocks, skeleton keys, antique furniture and any manner of European bric-a-brac.
The most well-known market in the City of Light is Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. It takes up more than 20 acres with 2,000-plus resale merchants. Visitors to Paris often spend a day at Saint-Ouen, sometimes with a guide. There, they might find a Louis XIV settee (real or reproduction) and antiques from the 18th century. Affordable trinkets are few and far between.
If the thought of navigating such a large area — filled with crowds — is intimidating to clients, suggest they try Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves instead. The Vanves flea market is a great match for clients on a budget as well.
Vanves, in the 14th arrondissement, is just a 20-minute metro ride from the center of Paris. I got off the 13 line at Porte Vanves station and took the exit near Place de la Porte de Vanves. Once on the street, I followed the signs (and crowds) two blocks away to the market on Avenue Marc Sangnier. At the market, I found table after table of vendors setting up their wares. Some of them had printed signs and seemed to be running a regular business, while others looked like Parisian locals who happened to have stuff to unload. There were stands filled with silverware — sterling and plated, by the set or the piece — and porcelain cups and saucers. There were African masks, imported satchels, books and used board games and toys. Other vendors sold old photographs, glassware, serving trays, lamps, vases and various trinkets. One of my favorite finds was taxidermy-style framed bugs and butterflies ready to be hung on the wall.
Even this “small” market is extensive — spanning several blocks — so clients should allow a few hours to wander. Luckily, there is a food cart at the center for a much-needed snack of coffee and a croissant.
While prices at Vanves might be higher than you would expect at similar markets in the U.S. (Parisians certainly value their stuff), most vendors are willing to negotiate. I left with several old tins — including one filled with old phonograph needles — a beaded necklace and two large poster-size sheets from an old anatomy textbook, suitable for framing. I spent about $40 (not counting the metro fare) and got some really great souvenirs. I wish I had bought more.
The market is open every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, when I arrived at 8 a.m. on a winter morning, vendors were still putting things out. Tell clients to go early, however, as vendors often start packing up as early as 1 p.m.
Though there is often a long line at the La Fournil de Paris bakery near the metro stop, I highly recommend bookending a market trip here. There’s also an ATM right next door to the bakery, which is handy because the market vendors don’t take credit cards.