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Preventing Theft at Street Fairs


Greetings. I am planning to start selling at different fairs and
flea markets and wanted to find out from those of you who are
experienced how you prevent thefts. I will be selling by myself and
am worried about my jewelry being stolen. For instance, I often see
people selling on the street or at fairs and they will have more
than one person handling their jewelry at a time. It is not unheard
for thieves to organize a distraction so that they can get a five
finger discount. How do you guard your stuff? Any advice about this
would be greatly appreciated. I know that most people who want to
purchase items are not going to steal, but I would like to protect
myself against those who might. Thanks


Hi Annabel, have a friend or family member help you out.

Leanne Elliott Soden


Now this I have experience with…smiles Always set up tables so
that the least expensive items are at the edge the customer is
nearest. Watch out for teams one distracts you the other loads up.

One of the best things I learned to do was to have items displayed
so that if something was taken a glaring hole was apparent on a quick
scan. Setup is everything. lockable table top glass top cases. Get a
pop-up overhead 10x10 cover as jewelry in glass topped security cases
will literally fry what is inside… I hate seeing this at flea
markets makes me twitch. Make sure you keep your money well organized
a under table lock box and if you get large bills routinely move them
discreetly to your vehicle or to another more secure lockbox (I have
sat with my feet up on the real money) if you are not near your car.

Other vendors will usually watch a booth for rest breaks but you
have to be careful. Be friendly and feel out your neighbors. Vendors
will on the most part watch each others backs. Lock all money in the
car before leaving the stand.

If you need to for your own comfort start out slow and keep high
priced stuff away from flea markets. I was taught best not to tempt
thy neighbor and to take care in all you do and you should be fine.
Good Luck it is a hard physical thing setup and breakdown.

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry


Hi Annabel:

I know that most people who want to purchase items are not going to
steal, but I would like to protect myself against those who might. 

This is something that everyone probably worries about. I was taken
for a couple hundred at a street fair, but not because the person
walked away with an item. They purchased using a bad credit card. If
you can rent or buy (or whatever) a credit card machine where you can
tell if the sale is going to go through on the spot, I would highly
recommend it. She looked like a nice, innocent girl, but she wasn’t.

Look everybody in the eye and try to be conscious of what you are
doing at all times. They are more likely to take advantage of you if
you look frazzled or absent-minded. Another artist recommended to me
to not let more than 1 (maybe 2) items be out of the case at one
time. This way you can watch better. If your booth is going to be
really crowded, see if you can pay or barter with someone to help you
in the booth that day. Doing everything by yourself is so much

I read an article about a person who had about 35k worth of finished
jewelry stolen from a case that she left momentarily unwatched. I am
in the process of building panels into my case so I can store things
inside the case itself and have everything in front of me in my sight
at all times. See about carrying insurance.

Street fairs can be tough (especially when they are selling beer and
wine) so please be careful. When you are loading and unloading your
stuff from your car/truck, can you see if there is someone available
from the show to be on the lookout? Can you drive your car right up
to your booth location to unload/load? The more you are separated
from your things, the more chances someone has to steal.

By all means, if at any time you get the willies and you think
something is not right, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. I
worked for a liquor store when I was in college. There were a couple
close calls and I think I really am lucky that nothing happened.

I am by nature an extremely security-conscious person so, take some
of what I have said a little lighter than I would take it. Good luck
and go make a lot of money.

Kim Starbard


I lost a few pieces at a high end art fair last year when I was
working alone. The best advice is to have a second pair of eyes. I
paid my neighbors HS age daughter to come watch with me at a few
shows this year. I also re-did my display. Ironically I can’t see
everyone looking at items as well as before, but I can place myself
where they have to pass me to get out of my tent now. I also make
sure EVERY pieced is attached to something, so they would have to
undo the attachment to pick it up (or drop an entire display piece
into their bag). This is not remotely perfect but so far it seems to
be working (knock on every piece of wood in the vicinity!)

The best option is to put everything in cases, but since my jewelry
has a lot of glass people like to touch it before they consider it
so this is my compromise.



Done that…been there.

Keep all Items in a closed glass covered case and tell you customers
that your Insurance company only allow you to show one item at a

Casmira Gems


I did a street market for a number of years and found the surest way
to prevent theft of valuable items on display is to have them under
glass, with a simple latch preferably concealed. Items can only be
handled while you are in attendance to hand them to the customers. I
started with glassed picture frames hinged directly on to the table,
and ended up with a set of glass-top display boxes.

Where glass is not practical and for cheaper items, acknowlege all
who touch the items in a friendly but sale orientated way, and flit
from one to the other as smoothly as possible. Be assertive where
necessary but never flustered. If you are doing these things then not
only are you giving good service, but will be seen as alert and

Take care of your personal posessions and most important the day’s
take, particularily at packing up time. Sneaky types know that you
are watching the menchantise in front of you and make off with
whatever is behind you.

Be prepared for rain, wind and sun when setting up at the start so
that you are not distracted or flustered when they happen. Look at
how other stallholders cope and find an efficient system, modify and
adapt as you get more experience. Have a plan for going to the

It can be exciting, boring, and exhausting - I found the only way to
learn is to do it, start small and learn as you go.

All the best, Alastair


Working an outdoor show by yourself can be somewhat stressful.

You should get acquainted with you neighbors as they can be of help
when you need a break or if you need help.

Your creations should be displayed in a secure manner. I built wood
display cases with a large glass lid. The lid was hinged to the
front of the case and was held up at an angle by triangular Plexiglas
sides. The sides prevented anyone from reaching around into the case
and picking up things. The sides were spring loaded and would drop
into the case if the lid was opened slightly. If someone walked away
with an item I could lift the lid slightly and then drop it down on
the case. The lid automatically locked when it was down. The case was
bolted to the table. That placed my creations in a secure case while
I could concentrate on other things. A sketch available upon request.

There was an artist that pinned all his items to the cloth on the
table. A little awkward but it makes slipping a piece off the table
without out your knowledge a little more difficult.

Do not let more than two customers handle your work at a time. It is
difficult to monitor several customers who are handling you work at
a time.

Display you work so that a missing piece will become immediately
recognized. Make a mental map of the display of all your art work
that is displayed on the table.

Payment can be a problem. You should have a credit card machine that
verifies the validity of a card. Taking a check presents more of a
problem. Be sure to record drivers license


Hi All,

A good tip I learned during years of street market trading is to
look for the “customers” who spend more time looking at you than the
merchandise, they’re waiting for you to look away so they can pocket

Steve Holden


I kept out of this, because I don’t do street fairs, and I thought
you’d get lot’s of advice. I will put in two things that are standard
to all jewelry sales, though, inside or outside. 1) Only show one
piece (to each customer) at a time. If they want to see another, put
away the first, maybe only back under glass where they can see but
not touch. 2)Any time you have compartmented boxes, like ring boxes,
put coins or similar in the empty spots - if you sell a ring, put your
placeholder in the spot. This tells you at a glance if anything’s
missing - much easier than counting. There does exist placeholders
nicer than coins for sale in the display business…


Thanks for chipping in. I cannot thank you and everyone else on this
board who has given me advice enough. It is kind of you to advise me
as I would be completely heartbroken if someone walked off with a
lot of my stuff. I feel for anyone who has experienced a theft,
because there is probably not only the financial loss that hurts,
but also the emotional loss of having something that you have
thought of and designed or handcrafted taken away without being
properly compensate.


Hi Annabel,

First, as others have said, it to get help. Ask a friend or family
member to help you. If you can’t find any help, ask the show
promoter if they will be providing booth sitters to watch your booth
while you make bathroom breaks or food runs. Never leave your cash
at the booth while you are gone, at least take the big bills with

Glass cases are good if you are going to be selling high end
jewelry. If you are selling jewelry up to about $50 maximum, I’d
think you could do without the cases. Just be sure to put your least
expensive items at the front of the table and the more costly pieces
at the back, closest to you. Many thieves will simply sweep
something off the front of a table into a bag. Have your front items
in trays or pin them down to the tablecloth so they can’t be swept
up. No thief is going to reach for an item at the back of the table
unless they have someone else causing a serious diversion for you
because they are more likely to get caught.

Make sure you stay calm, don’t let anyone rush you. Someone else
mentioned that if you look frazzled you will be a target and I
totally agree. Take the time needed to do a transaction properly.

Speaking of taking time, if you have a credit card merchant account
but not a wireless machine to take with you to the show, take the
time to call in the sale. Every merchant is provided with a toll
free number to call for credit card authorizations. If you have a
cell phone and it is working, there is no reason not to call to get
the transaction authorized. Yes it takes more time and customers
will have to wait, but you would rather make them wait than lose a
couple hundred dollars to a bad card. If you can afford the monthly
lease on a wireless machine through your credit card company, I
highly recommend having one. It saves a lot of time and headaches.

The only time I put money in a cash box is when I have someone else
to help me. If I am by myself at a show, I use one of those half
aprons like waiters wear to hold their pads and pens. I keep my
bills in one pocket, business cards in another and a calculator and
pens in the third. Having my money accessible at my waist means I’m
not bending over or turning away taking my eyes off the table. Yes,
someone might see that you have a bunch of bills. If you are alone,
ask your neighbor to walk with you to your vehicle or ask the show
promoter for an escort. Also, make sure you get the promoter’s cell
phone number programmed into your phone so you can call if you need
anything and let them know that you are solo.

Finally, the usual tips for not becoming a victim to robbery: Stay
aware, keep your head up and look at your surroundings, have your
vehicle keys ready, go directly to your vehicle with purpose (don’t
meander and stay off the phone), get in your vehicle, lock the
doors, then start the vehicle. You will be much less likely to be
robbed if you don’t look like you could be taken by surprise.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Nancy Stinnett
Geosoul Arts