ThereÃ¢ÂÂs just no place like the marchÃÂ© aux puces, aka the Paris flea markets, especially at Clignancourt, the largest Paris market and one of the best shopping resources in the world.
Strolling the markets is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, cutting through little streets and alleys, admiring the curated collections dealers have laid out. But thereÃ¢ÂÂs another side to the market that most people donÃ¢ÂÂt get to see, one thatÃ¢ÂÂs not as picture perfect but where dealers themselves shop and trade with each other.
The Paris flea markets and the vendors who manage them have long been a staple of the landscape in the city. For me theyÃ¢ÂÂre the heart and soul, the dealers quietly and reliably setting up whether rain or shine, every weekend for over 100 years.
In Paris the markets are a treasured tradition and being a vendor is a respected profession. Some believe that the markets have been poached, even pillaged! TheyÃ¢ÂÂll say that there are no bargains left, and that Clignancourt (aka St.-Ouen) is a tourist trap.
After decades of exploration and bargain hunting, I still find nothing to be further from the truth. These markets are filled with authentic, affordable, one-of-a-kind finds, but the fact is, you have to know the lay of the land. And if youÃ¢ÂÂre willing to go off the beaten path, youÃ¢ÂÂll find exactly what youÃ¢ÂÂre looking for. At a bon prix at that!
The first thing to learn about Clignancourt is how itÃ¢ÂÂs laid out. The market itself has two entrances, and both are off the rue des Rosiers, one from each end. Most people use the No. 4 line and get out at Porte de Clignancourt. This will take you in through all the new items, and it can get dicey. The alternative is to use the No. 13 line and get off at Garibaldi, walking a few quiet blocks until you get to the rue des Rosiers from the other end. Either way, itÃ¢ÂÂs off this street that all the magic happens.
The entire setup is like a small city consisting of about 14 submarkets, indoors and out, upstairs and down, in alleys, passages, shops and warehouses. Each is either on Rosiers or a street shooting off it. Some streets go two or three blocks deep into the market. Of course the deeper you go, the less pretty it is, but thatÃ¢ÂÂs where a lot of the treasure hunting happens.
Antica, Biron, Cambo, Dauphine, LÃ¢ÂÂEntrepÃÂ´t, Malassis, Malik, Le Passage, Paul Bert, Rosiers, Serpette, LÃ¢ÂÂUsine, Jules VallÃÂ¨s, Vernaison
Clignancourt itself is open for a half day in the morning on Fridays. (ItÃ¢ÂÂs a dealerÃ¢ÂÂs day, with a lot of trading and selling at LÃ¢ÂÂUsine. If youÃ¢ÂÂre a dealer or shopping professionally, itÃ¢ÂÂs a great place to check out. Bring a business card to get in and look around, and keep a low profile.) On Saturdays and Sundays, most stalls are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays, dealers come once again, and shoppers can meet vendors with an appointment. Many of the dealers come in for a half day, from about 11 to 4.
Popular markets like Vernaison and Serpette are fabulous and have loads of atmosphere, but if youÃ¢ÂÂre shopping to take home real bargains, head along the rue des Rosiers to the end of the rue Paul Bert. Most people stop here and turn around. But if you go a little further, you wonÃ¢ÂÂt be disappointed.
Dealers buy and trade back here, and haggling is de rigueur. ItÃ¢ÂÂs absolutely no frills, but youÃ¢ÂÂll find what youÃ¢ÂÂre looking for. Almost. We have to go a little deeper! At the crossroad here, make a left onto the rue Jules VallÃÂ¨s. YouÃ¢ÂÂll see fewer decorative booths and more wares set up on the streets. Chances are youÃ¢ÂÂll also hear a Victrola playing and lots of laughter.
About halfway down the street on the left will be the Passage. This is a fascinating bridge between the main market and the back end and is filled with vintage goodies. If you make it this far, youÃ¢ÂÂll have gone deeper than most, who just skim the surface. Once you go through the Passage, youÃ¢ÂÂll find another flea market along the rue LÃÂ©cuyer, with vendors who are happy to negotiate and haggle. ItÃ¢ÂÂs loaded with everything from paintings to chandeliers to authentic French furnishings that havenÃ¢ÂÂt been pedigreed yet.
If you want to experience a bit of the underground, go off the rails and head back here to the authentic Paris we love so much. DonÃ¢ÂÂt be afraid to dig under tables and in boxes, and to ask for deals when buying one or more items. YouÃ¢ÂÂll find the atmosphere playful and fun, a real flea market experience where youÃ¢ÂÂre sure to find a one-of-a-kind treasure to keep forever.
MarchÃÂ© aux Puces St.-Ouen de Clignancourt