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Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France’s second-hand sales

Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France's second-hand sales
Photo: Joel Saget / AFP
From late spring to early autumn, ‘vide greniers’ are an institution in towns and villages across France - but what, exactly, are they?

The term literally means ‘empty attic’, and it’s basically a sale event that offers anyone who goes a chance to get their hands on some serious bargains, from clothes and shoes, to toys, small electricals and heaven knows what else.

They’re usually held in public spaces such as market squares or car parks, but can be on private land such as in the gardens of the local chateau

Meanwhile, householders who have ‘emptied their attics’ can make a bit of money and clear some storage space.

As well as vide greniers, you may also see signs for brocantes, braderies and marché aux puces – these are all sales of second-hand goods, albeit with some slight distinctions (see below).

There are rules – both written and unwritten – for anyone planning to make a few euros when the next vide grenier is advertised locally. This is France, after all. 

The written rules

Private individuals can sell items they own at vide greniers, brocantes or braderies. But they are permitted to do so just two times per year.

As part of the registration process that allows you to sell items at one of these events, you must certify ‘on your honour’ that you have not taken part in more than two such sales.

READ ALSO What does it means when you declare ‘on your honour’?

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Under Article L310-2 of the French Commercial Code, in order to class as a private seller, you may only sell ‘personal and used items’.

You cannot sell any new items, or anything you have created yourself without first registering as a professional under – for example – the micro-entrepreneur regime … and pay taxes and social charges as required.

Professionals can take part in vide greniers, too, but must be appropriately registered for tax and so on.

As long as you’re a private seller, you do not have to declare any money you make from a vide grenier – unless you’re selling precious metals, or you sell property for more than €5,000, excluding furniture, household appliances or cars.

Any individual who plans to organise a sale must first make an official declaration (pdf) to the local mayor. Failure to do so could result in a fine of €15,000.

The unwritten rules

Seller beware. Don’t expect to make much of an impression on seasoned French vide grenier buyers if you rock up to your pre-booked table with a few black bags of clothes you no longer want, and tip them out onto your table.

Make sure any clothes you plan to sell are clean, repaired if necessary, and ironed. Shoes should be clean and, if possible, boxed – that way you can show any dithering buyer how much you paid for them when new and why, therefore, €6 is a steal.

Lay your clothes and other items out neatly. If you have a rail you can take for shirts, do.

If you’re selling toys, make sure they’re clean and free of old food stains. If they’re boxed, so much the better.

Even so, expect shoppers to examine everything closely, noting – often out loud – any marks, knocks or other imperfections. They’re looking for perfection … and if they don’t find it, then they expect the already lower-than-new price to come tumbling down.

And if you do have anything that’s slightly the worse for wear, don’t try to hide it. Stick it in a bargain box, and offer what’s inside for a fixed price per item. Visitors will come to your stall for the well-presented items, and may leave with a few extra bargains that all add up.

Importantly, keep your stall area tidy, and your wares well laid-out no matter what the horde of visitors do; be friendly and welcoming and you could make enough to cover the cost of a summer holiday. Which is nice.

Buyers

Entry to the event is usually free, although sometimes there will be a voluntary collection for a local charity or organisation.

In terms of buying, you get what you see – there are no receipts and no returns policy, so have a good look before you buy. Most sellers prefer cash, although some of the professional operators will also take cards.

Handling items on stalls and examining them is fine, although it’s polite to say hello to the stallholder before you start rifling through their stuff.

Haggling is accepted. Unlike at most French markets or shops, you can do a bit of bargaining and ask the stallholder for a lower price, or suggest a discount if you are buying several items. It’s not quite like the high-octane bargaining at the souk, however.

Vocab

Vide grenier – literally ’empty attic’ these are second-hand sales similar to yard sales or jumble sales, so don’t expect to see priceless antiques. The size of sales varies from just a few dozen stalls in small towns to big events with several hundred stallholders.

Brocante – slightly more upmarket than vide grenier, but not as expensive as antiques. Brocantes have a variety of goods, but often include furniture, so they’re a great place to snap up a few bargains when you are furnishing your French home (although brocantes in Paris are significantly more expensive). Most brocantes are temporary sales, but the word can also be used for a shop that sells vintage or second-hand furniture, crockery, household items and clothes.

Braderie – the most famous braderie is in Lille, an annual street market that usually welcomes around 2 million visitors over the two-day sale. Plenty of smaller towns hold braderies as well though.

Marché aux puces – flea market. These are cheaper than brocantes but the items on offer are usually less good quality (although if you’re prepared to rummage then there are bargains to be found). Paris holds a large Marché aux Puces on a permanent site at Saint-Ouen on the northern edge of the city, but in smaller towns these are temporary affairs.


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