From the outside, Treasure Hunt Flea Market (尋寶跳蚤屋) near Guting MRT Station (古亭捷運站) does not look as promising as its name would suggest. A tangled pile of old clothing fills one crate; tatty jewelry lines another. A peek inside the store is a little better — a table topped with colorful bric-a-brac dominates the front room.
But it isn’t until you climb a narrow set of stairs or walk across an alleyway into a second maze-like group of rooms that Treasure Hunt really reveals itself. Taipei’s largest secondhand store contains 600 pings [1 ping = 3.3m²] filled with nearly 30,000 vintage items from the US, Europe, China and Japan stuffed into nooks and crannies that shoppers can (almost literally) lose themselves in. Items range from old postcards, Brownie cameras and typewriters to traditional Chinese-style wooden window screens, a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine and entire living room sets from the 1950s.
Treasure Hunt was opened seven years ago by Tiki Lin (林宜芝), who began collecting vintage items as a university student and continued hunting for them when she lived in Virginia
“There were a lot of yard sales and antique stores there. I wanted to capture the spirit of yard sales, because in Taiwan people don’t really have places to hold them. But I didn’t just want to open a thrift store because that wouldn’t be profitable here,” says Lin. She explains that many items people are willing to part with are from night markets or otherwise cheaply made and unsuitable for resale. Selling vintage items and imported antiques provides a revenue stream — and lures customers in.
Treasure Hunt started as a chain of five stores, but Lin merged all of them together into her Roosevelt Road location when an additional 300 pings of property became available to rent behind the original storefront. To add to the flea market atmosphere, even antiques are placed out in the open instead of behind glass. Staff members, however, encourage shoppers to browse around the different rooms by themselves. “We don’t follow customers around because it makes them uncomfortable,” says Lin, pointing out that the store’s most valuable items, such as a heavy 100-year-old music box from Switzerland (NT$388,800), are nearly impossible to shoplift.
WHAT: Treasure Hunt Flea Market (尋寶跳蚤屋)
WHERE: 38, Roosevelt Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市羅斯褔路二段38號)
OPEN: Daily from 11am to 10:30pm
TELEPHONE: (02) 2391-2100
ON THE NET: www.goodtrade.com.tw
Customers are free to open and close the multiple drawers in a traditional Chinese medicine cabinet (NT$38,000) or leisurely flip through stacks of hand-carved wooden window and door screens (NT$4,000 to NT$7,000 each). Two American barbershop seats are NT$298,000 each and a wooden door with a stained glass window is NT$98,000. Shoppers looking for a smaller financial commitment can browse vintage Japanese rotary phones (NT$700 each), old photos and postcards (NT$30), or a View-Master toy from the 1950s (complete with circular slides) for NT$680. Daytime visitors might run into Chocolate, Lin’s gregarious schnauzer, or Meow Meow, her tabby cat who prowls the store.
Lin makes buying trips once every few months. She moved her focus to Europe last year because she says her finds in the US were drying up.
“In California, for example, there are only a couple of auctions per week, and if I wanted to fill up just two shipping containers, I’d have to stay for two months. But in Europe, I can stay for three to five days and come back with four or five shipping containers filled with things,” says Lin. She rarely visits flea markets, which she says are for amateur thrifters, and goes instead to antique warehouses or auctions, where she purchases entire estates of goods at a time. Treasure Hunt also takes secondhand items, which customers bring in to sell or donate (proceeds from donated items are given to local hospitals).