Travelers to Europe often visit the tried-and-true shopping destinations, from Parisian brocantes and piquant Provence markets to London’s much-loved Portobello Road, but there are plenty of lesser-known meccas throughout the continent. Roving about on one’s own might uncover a few serendipitous spots, but taking advantage of professional services, such as The Antiques Diva & Co., may yield better results. The company, founded by American expatriate Toma Clark Haines, offers custom-planned buying tours for travelers and trade professionals visiting such diverse places as Sweden, Belgium, and Thailand. Last year, Toma invited a group that included entrepreneur Pandora de Balthazár to join her at Parma’s Mercanteinfiera market.
Pandora’s Pensacola, Florida-based company was inspired by the beautiful linens and laces she discovered while living abroad. Upon returning to the States, she began helping others indulge in the luxuries she had experienced.
Mercanteinfiera is divided into five pavilions—each with a different focus—encompassing everything from designer clothing and accessories to antique furniture and lighting. Wholesale buyers should attend the preview days, when vendors are unloading their goods, but retail buyers should wait until the official opening day.
It’s important to know Mercanteinfiera is a high-end trade show rather than a flea market, and exhibitors understand the worth of their wares. Pandora, whose area of expertise encompasses linens and lace, offers these helpful tips for those who share her affinity for beautiful things:
- Be sure to have money in the country’s currency, as not everyone takes credit cards.
- Seek the help of a professional guide, like Toma Clark Haines of The Antiques Diva & Co. She knows the markets and the reputations of the dealers.
- For linens in particular, use your senses—see, touch, smell. You can smell mildew, chemical cleaners, and dry rot. Linens are not fragile if they are properly cared for.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t speak the language, find an interpreter.
- Feel free to negotiate, but be remember to be respectful.