07:00, on the “axis of China”, a series of large boulevards reserved for professional second-hand dealers. Already numerous in the bluish dawn, bargain hunters equipped with flashlights pass revelers who are still tipsy.

“We started at 4:30 a.m. We had to walk, but we found open stands. The sale is back, we wanted to play the game”, enthuses Joëlle Ridolfi, 51, who came from Tongeren to Belgium out of “passion from China”.

In the cart pulled by her husband, their “finds”: a mirror in the shape of the sun and a statuette of a bird. She “likes the variety of things on offer here. It’s a bit expensive, above the market. But there are special items, which are worth it”.

Varnished clocks, threadbare rocking horse, Art Deco vase, bull’s head or traffic lights… Everywhere in the capital of Flanders, antiques rub shoulders with clothes, crockery, or toys for a few euros. 8,000 exhibitors, including 600 professionals, offer their merchandise on 80 km of stalls, in a secure area completely empty of cars.

– “It was really missing” –

For 34 hours, from Saturday 8 a.m. to Sunday 6 p.m., the city is transformed into a giant garage sale. Two to three million visitors are expected, after two successive cancellations due to Covid-19.

Shopping carts in hand, many foreign buyers are sneaking in. “I’ve come to find stuff for my two shops in the Netherlands, but you have to act quickly, afterwards, there will be too many crowds”, launches Esther, 50, on the fly.

Muen Van Minh, an 18-year-old Vietnamese inspects a mother-of-pearl table. “150? 160? 180… Well, okay,” he negotiates in English. He is looking for “Chinese art, old and rare objects”. On the neighboring stand, Sally Light, a 32-year-old London antiques dealer, “is looking for objects from the middle of the 20th century”, and sets her sights on an abstract painting.

“It feels good to be there, it was really missing! We accumulated stock for two years, we have 30 or 40% more stock,” says Breton junk dealer Didier Cloarec, 64. “Here, sales are much better than elsewhere. But there is also the atmosphere, the clearance sale spirit! This festive side, the mixture of languages”.

Philippe, a 68-year-old Belgian second-hand dealer, regrets that “many buyers ask but no longer want to pay”. “No doubt the crisis, the uncertainty. What we sell is luxury, not the essential,” he sighs.

– “Good deals” –

Dresses, jackets, figurines and video games: in the alleys of Old Lille, the merchandise is varied and cheaper. Brass bands mingle with the rattle of cutlery set up by restaurateurs. Tens of thousands of gourmets taste the traditional mussels and fries here.

Political figures have also been invited, to take advantage of the crowd effect: Jean-Luc Mélenchon will notably speak on the Nupes stand in the afternoon, before the leader of the PCF Fabien Roussel intervenes. at the communist stand.

“This atmosphere, this conviviality, it was so lacking!” Exclaims Capucine Camus, 34, on her stand. “It’s really my annual meeting” to “empty the cupboards, fill the wallet a little”, and above all “to meet, with family and friends”.

Coming on the advice of her companion from Lille, Isabelle Djama roams “all the streets” in search of “good deals”. “Faced with inflation, we are necessarily looking for quality at a lower price, and this is the perfect opportunity”. “I buy trinkets for a few cents, or products that I don’t usually afford,” says Sarah Marrer, 24.

“We have just moved to Lille so we are looking for furniture, decoration. Our apartment is a bit empty, because we do not have a big budget”, explains Martial Philau, 20, who arrived from Brittany with his companion.