Lara Spencer is unstoppable. For the co-anchor of Good Morning America and creator, executive producer and host of Flea Market Flip, best selling author and devoted mother of two teenagers, life is good.
“I am really, really happy where I am,” says Spencer.
Today at 48, Spencer is feeling on top of the world and attributes much of her successes to growing up in Garden City.
We caught up with her as she was getting ready for the holidays, to talk work, her recent projects, motherhood, her love for Garden City, how she got the nickname “Bird” and the best strategy for hunting treasures at your next flea market stop.
Long Island Press: How would you describe yourself?
Lara Spencer: Well, I am definitely a product of Long Island. Growing up there really formed who I am. I am very proud to be a Strong Islander. I think we are real and we are honest. We work hard, and we love to laugh, and we are a little loud, and we are proud of it. When people say: “Oh, you are from Long Island with the hard “G,”
I correct them and say, “No, It is Long Island, and it is the most incredible place to grow up. Thirty-five minutes from New York and a world away if you want it to be with the greatest people who will keep you in check every step of the way. I went to Garden City High School, and I am known by high school nickname. They don’t care one iota what I do for a living. I am still the same old Lara from Garden City High School, and I love that.
LIP: Do you visit often? Do you have family there?
LS: I visit often. My best friend in the world is my friend from grade school and high school. I am a firm believer that old friends are the best friends. They know you the best. They keep you in check and my friends from Garden City certainly do that.
My brother is also still there. I was just there for Thanksgiving. I went to the Garden City Hotel for a drink, that is one of my favorite spots. They did a terrific job renovating. They have a little outdoor stop now in the front in the summer with fire pits, and the bar inside that is so chic. It is really fun. It is home base for our friends when we all get together and we eventually end up at Leo’s, a burger joint. It is the beacon in the night for all of us who all grew up in Garden City. It’s just a great casual family stop where you can go with your family for a burger, or when you get home, everyone gathers there on the holidays. When I go back we all meet at Leo’s then I am not Lara anymore, I am Bird. My nickname was bird. Long story. I am happy to tell it. I played basketball all through grade school and high school, and I was very tall at an early age. And, I happened to choose the number 33 because it was my favorite number. I had no idea that was the number Larry Bird wore. My name is Lara, so all the boys in a teasing way in seventh grade used to call me Lara Bird. Then it became a term of affection. And today at 48 years old I am still Bird. I love it. It warms my heart to walk into Leo’s and hear “Hey Bird.”
LIP: Do they have a burger named after you? You know I had to ask that.
LS: They don’t, but for a long time they did have my picture on the wall. I believe they updated and that is just fine. Also one of my first jobs was being a bus girl there, and then I graduated to waitress and occasionally hostess.
LIP: Garden City is beautiful particularly this time of year during the holidays?
LS: People take pride in their homes and celebrating the holidays. It is really special to drive around especially if we ever get snow again. It is impossible not to be in the holiday spirit when you drive around the town.
LIP: Is it true that you were a professional diver?
LS: I wasn’t professional. I was a diver my whole life through college. I went to college on an athletic scholarship for springboard diving to Penn State University. In my senior year, I was captain of the team and very proud. Garden City is also a community that encourages sports, and there is no shortage of opportunity for kids at any level to get involved in pretty much any sport you can think of. I was lucky, as the youngest of five. My mom was constantly driving all the kids from one practice to another just because I was the youngest I was tagging along, so I got into soccer, lacrosse, swimming because that is what my siblings were all doing. I think it is a blessing to be in a big family and have brothers and sisters to pave the way for you and they continue to do that. I have two brothers and two sisters. My dad sadly passed away, but he was the President of the Garden City Men’s Association and was involved in local sports, and my mom coached soccer. They were incredibly passionate about their community and being part of it.
LIP: Your mom sure took it to the next level of being a soccer mom?
LS: My mom coached softball and soccer. I think that is the way she could be in control of the situation. She was coaching and made sure she kept an eye on us that way.
LIP: What type of stories do you like covering the most? Entertainment? News?
LS: I really love celebrating the underdog. One of my favorite stories ever was meeting with the real-life Rosie the Riveters. These women are now in their golden years. They were so formidable and so influential in World War II. I will never forget meeting with a group of them and seeing the twinkle in their eyes talking about how they helped win the war and what they gave up for our country. My kids had no idea what the expression even meant — Rosie the Riveter — so that is a really good day when I learn something and can come home and start a conversation and my kids can learn something from my work. I am still thinking about those women and it has been two years since I met them. I will never forget their energy and their pride. I am so grateful to have given that opportunity to meet them
LIP: How old are your children?
LS: My son turns 16 in January, and my daughter is 13. I am in the thick of it.
LIP: As a mother of two teenagers how do you do it all? What is the secret?
LS: The same way you do it and the same way every parent does it. There is no real secret to it. You just have to prioritize. Personally, my kids come first. That’s how I do it. When they are all set, then I go from there. I have my day job at GMA. Then I take off that hat, and I put on the hat of producer and do my meetings in the afternoon until the kids get home and then its back to wearing the mom hat and worrying about homework and pick up from sports and figuring out what the heck I am going to feed them for dinner. I especially think given the current climate, no one ever asks how men do it all. We just do it. It’s our job. We are so lucky to have our beautiful children, who are happy and healthy hopefully, and I think when you put them first everything kind of falls into place around it. Then I just peace meal whatever free time I have left over. Unfortunately, manicures get the last place. That is my once every other week total treat on a Saturday if I can fit it in, but it is absolutely not a priority.
LIP: What is next for you?
LS: Oh my goodness, I think more of the same and continuing to cultivate ideas that are inspired by being curious, observant and creative. I come up with a million ideas all the time whether it is for a segment for GMA or my production company for a new show. I love my life at Good Morning America. I love running a production company and continuing to create. I launched a production company two years ago called DuffKat Media named after my kids, Duff and Kate. We just sold two pilots to the Scripps Network one to the Travel Channel and one to HGTV. I have other shows in development right now at the other networks, so that is exciting for me. I am like a tale of two cities. I look fancy on GMA and throw on my jeans and ass-kicking boots and hit the flea.
LIP: Tell me more about you career.
LS: One thing I will say …I am more well known now honestly for Flea Market Flip. It’s this unbelievable thing that happened. This little idea that I had that thankfully HGTV and Great American Country bought into and fell in love with, and now 11 seasons later, we are the little engine that could. I get stopped more about that show than GMA It has such a cool following and so many young kids are into up cycling, and it all started on Long Island.
LIP: How did your passion for shopping inspire your projects?
LS: I grew up with a mom who had great taste, but not a big budget. Every Saturday morning we would read the Garden City newspaper and circle the tag sales. Because I was the youngest I was stuck with her and we would go around to the tag sales and then go to the flea market where Roosevelt Field is now or where the racetrack was back in the ’80s. My passion for the books and for Flea Market Flip is all because of my upbringing on Long Island. And, my incredible parents who worked really hard to make ends meet and showed us that you don’t need a lot of money to have great style.
LIP: I love finding treasures, so I was excited to talk flea markets with you.
LS: Long Island is a treasure trove. If it were easier for me to get there between the kids’ sports, I would be there every weekend. There is some fabulous estates and cool collectors out there. It is also so fun to go to a yard sale and talk to the owners of the home about their collections. I always feel like it is a bit of a history lesson in of itself. Looking at old records and old porcelain I find myself learning something about the world or about these people and I love that. It is a great way to create a home that tells a story.
LIP: What is one of your favorite finds?
LS: A painting I found at an estate sale. It is not very valuable per se, but it’s been in every home I have lived in since the kids were born. They love it now, and hopefully, they will hang it with pride in their home. It is a pop art rendering done by a guy who worked in advertising. He was auditioning for a Lipton Tea ad. It was his sort of take on whatever the copy was. It’s a little bit like that pop art Andy Warhol school, but not on that level. It just makes me smile when I look at it every day.
LIP: What do you like to collect?
LS: What I really love right now is fantastic black-and-white photography. There is no one theme. I created this beautiful gallery wall I collected over the years from flea markets and yard sales, and I frame them all the same. The framing costs more than the photograph, but I love the simplicity. I feel like the older I get the cleaner and simpler my taste becomes.
LIP: Do you have a favorite period of photography?
LS: I would say ’60s and ’70s is my jam. Also ’40s and ’50s could be chic too. You never now what you are going to find when you are out looking. You just need to have an open mind. I see what speaks to me.
LIP: What are some of your quotes that you often say on the show?
LS: I have a few mantras when I am talking to new flea marketers.
1. Getting there early definitely pays off.
2. The adage, early bird gets the worm is really true when you are a true flea marketer
3. If you see something and you love it snap it up because if you walk away it will be gone when you come back.
4. Cash is king when it comes to flea marketing. You will have a lot more bargaining power if you are paying in cash then with any other method.
5. Be nice to the dealers. Remember they have gotten up before the sun was up and they are working really hard unpacking their wares that they have collected.
6. I cringe when I hear contestants really low ball. I think it’s nice to say, “What is your best offer?” Please never offer less than half. It is their job. They are working really hard
LIP: Shopping can be work. What about footwear? Sneakers? Heels? Flats?
LS: This isn’t a fashion show. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring your best friend so they can tell you when you picked up a total mistake. You need a friend who is honest who is going to say, “Where the hell are you going to put that?” Otherwise, you will end up with a garage full of junk. I have a lot of mistakes, and thankfully I have a lot more treasures.