15 Tips for Safe Secondhand Shopping This Summer

Stay healthy as you scout out great buys at yard sales, thrift shops, and more. Nothing beats the blues like finding a bargain, which is why so many folks opt to shop secondhand. Summer has long been the time for scouring flea markets and yard sales, whether to score prized collectibles or simply outfit the family with cool clothes, fun toys, and more. Belts are tighter than ever right now, making low prices a priority, but sadly—as with so many activities we enjoyed back in the “old normal”—COVID-19 is impacting the seasonal search for gently used gems.

Business as Unusual

Tips for safe secondhand shopping

Social distancing and travel restrictions have negatively affected vintage, antique, and used-goods vendors nationwide. But sellers are discovering new ways to do business, and buyers can still find amazing deals—you just have to know where to look and how to stay safe. (It should go without saying that masks are a must for all in-person interactions!) Check out the ways today’s smart secondhand shoppers are pursuing the thrill of thrift.


Avoid a trip to nowhere.

Avoid unnecessary trips

COVID-19 has, unfortunately, forced many popular flea markets across the USA to cancel or postpone, so check before setting out to a favorite haunt. The world-famous Brimfield, Massachusetts, flea market, for example—which typically gets a million visitors a year—shuttered its May and July shows, but hopes are high that the September event will happen on schedule.


Find a virtual flea market fix.

Find a virtual flea market

For a flea market experience from the comfort of your air-conditioned living room, pick up that device! You never know what treasures you’ll find among the jewelry, collectibles, games, records, and more at online emporiums like Srchie and Virtual Flea Market. What’s more, savvy vendors are more active on social media than ever, with dealers doing business on Instagram and Facebook Marketplace.


Consider curbside pickup.

Consider curbside pickup

Your neighbors can be a great source for secondhand stuff, via such local sales sites as Craigslist and 5miles. Communicate with sellers, asking about how items have been cleaned/sanitized and, if you make a deal, pay with an app and arrange for contactless curbside pickup.

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Enjoy e-estate sales.

Enjoy e-estate sales

Checking out upscale architecture at estate sales may be on hold for now, but quality used goods are going up for grabs at sites like Everything But The House and EstateSales.org. You can browse and bid on everything from vintage jewelry and designer clothing to fine furniture—perhaps even a baby grand piano!


Dicker with dealers.

Haggle for a better price

With so many sellers competing on apps and websites, items may cost less than you’d imagine. But bargaining is part of the secondhand shopping experience, so feel free to ask for an even better price. Pointing out slight damage on an item may help, or simply saying, “Times are tough and I can’t afford to pay more than $20” may do the trick.


Inquire about safety measures.

Ask about safety measures

Due to still-inconclusive info about how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, it’s wise to ask about how an item was cleaned and disinfected prior to going on sale. Also find out how it will be packed and shipped, taking a pass if safety measures don’t meet your standards.

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Report unfair practices.

Report unfair practices

During a pandemic, some unscrupulous vendors engage in price gouging. At the height of a curve, this tends to apply to in-demand personal protection items like hand sanitizer and masks, and shouldn’t be an issue with a vinyl record album or vintage sundress. Still, most marketplaces encourage customers to report any unfair pricing and practices (here’s how to do it on eBay, for example).


Peruse a sidewalk sale.

Peruse a sidewalk sale

If you don’t feel comfortable going inside your favorite thrift store these days, you’re not alone. That’s why some secondhand stores are conducting sidewalk sales. Used goods are placed on racks and tables outdoors, where there’s a lessened risk of exposure to respiratory droplets; prices tend to be better than ever (all clothing $1!); and proceeds often go to a noble cause. Win, win, win!


Scope out safe yard sales.

Scope out safe yard sales

Cruising the neighborhood for yard sales—which are by definition outdoor events—can still be part of your summer fun. (Though keep in mind that some municipalities require permits for yard sales, and yours may be issuing fewer now due to COVID-19 restrictions.) To shop yard sales safely, check advertisements and/or signage for mentions of social distancing measures. Then observe: Are sellers wearing masks and disposable gloves? Do they have hand sanitizer available for customers? Skip a sale that doesn’t make shopper safety a priority.


Social distance and avoid crowds.

Social distance

A safe yard sale will have a chalk or tape path for shoppers, with spacing markers 6 feet apart; some sellers may even put out lawn chairs so folks can wait their turn at a distance comfortably. Responsible yard sale holders will designate at least one person to take head counts and manage crowds. Pass by if the sale is mobbed or if folks aren’t wearing masks.


Time it right.

Time it right

Yard sale veterans strive to arrive first for the best pickings, but being an early bird is important for health reasons now. There’ll be less of a chance that lots of other folks have pawed through items, and if there’s a social distancing line, the sun won’t be too high in the sky, so waiting it out won’t be a scorching experience.


Resist the urge to rummage.

Resist the urge to rummage

Dedicated bargain hunters normally have no problem digging through boxes of random stuff, but now is not the time to rummage, even if you’re wearing a mask and disposable gloves. Instead, patronize yard sales with items displayed separately on tables, along the driveway, or on the lawn. Clothing items, for instance, should be fully open rather than folded so folks can shop hands-free.

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Ask before you handle.

Ask before handling

Curious about a piece of merchandise? Before picking it up, smile and inquire about how it was washed and dried or disinfected prior to being put up for sale. To limit unnecessary touching, ask questions like, “Is that shirt a large?”, “What brand is it?” and “Is it 100 percent cotton?” If you decide to inspect an item for tears, stains, or other damages, don disposable gloves.


Pay without contact.

Pay without contact

Yard sales were among the last bastions of cash, but nowadays it’s safer and smarter to use a payment app like Venmo. Of course, some sellers may only accept cash, so before heading out have a supply of bills in different denominations, and consider rounding up or down to avoid back-and-forth transactions.


Clean it like you mean it.

Clean items

No matter what a seller says about cleaning and disinfecting items, you’ll never know how many people have handled them before they caught your eye. You’ll have better peace of mind if you thoroughly wash and dry textiles (in hot water if possible), and disinfect plastic, ceramic, metal, and other hard surface items. When it comes to wood furniture, wool sweaters, suede jackets, and other things you can’t toss in the washing machine or wipe down with bleach, consider leaving them outside in bright sunlight for a day or two as a just-in-case measure.

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