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Flea Market Adventures #001

I figure this is an important piece of information for new collectors: you can rummage through eBay listings and GameStop bargain bins all you want, but if you ever hope to get those “big scores,” you’ve got to be willing to brave the wild frontier. If you’ve got a decent flea market close to your home, make it a ritual to swing by at least bi-weekly, and you will likely find yourself rewarded. And you get to enjoy some truly choice culinary delights:

Deal of the century!

Deal of the century!

My personal flea market is the one at Laney College in Oakland, CA. Every Sunday the student parking lot is crowded with tents, and for just $1 entry fee you can begin your treasure hunt. I’ve had some great scores from this place over the past two years, here’s a day’s work from not too long ago:

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(Funny story about the GBA lot. Found it at the bottom of some dealer’s plastic storage bin, asked if he’d take $20 for it all. The guy actually laughed in my face! I figured he was insulted by my lowball, but he then asked for… $25. I guess the $5 differential of my offer was really ridiculous to him for some reason!)

Anyhow, I’m moving soon so this may be one of the last times I’ll be able to hit up this flea without having to make a trip of it. So, even though the rain had scared off a number of vendors, I figured I’d give it the old college try.

Booth #1 – Pricey Pete

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Man, this guy’s booth is always super weird. For starters, he sells all sorts of electronic garbage, but as part of that is a strange collection of games and consoles. I say “strange” because he literally has plastic storage tubs jammed full of old dirty SNES units, even stuff like a Super Famicom and Sega CD lying around.

Problem is, guy wants top dollar for EVERYTHING. I have never once caught him slipping on prices either. I pull a Joe & Mac from the NES stack, he wants $20 for it (average eBay price: $15-$20). I ask about a pile of old dog-eared NES manuals, he wants $5 apiece. Here’s where I’ll quickly put the first of many flea market tips:

Flea Market Tip 001: Know Your Prices – Yes, in the era of smart phones, you technically have a foolproof price guide at your disposal at any time. But hey, if you’re talking to a vendor, he’s not going to put up with you double checking every price online, and he sure isn’t going to be kind to haggling. Going through this guy’s wares, I know they are largely overpriced, and that limits my chance of overspending. Not to say that I’ve never accidentally paid a few extra bucks for something which I shouldn’t have, but I tend to make more good deals than bad.

As a secondary protip, if you really need to check the price on something, tell the dealer you’ve got to call a buddy who might be interested in the item. Sneak away, check the eBay “sold” listings, and if the deal seems good swing back and snag it “for your buddy.”

Booth #2 – “Fell Off the Truck” Guy

This is a common flea market stereotype, the guy selling piles of weird electronic merchandise for well below cost. He says it “fell off the back of a truck.” Sure, I’ll play along.

Didn’t get any pictures of his wares, but the guy had a Nerf Zeus Rival rifle for $15 (MSRP $50, though eBay seems to be paying $65+ for them because of the holidays). Let me be honest, I don’t normally like to buy stupid toys I don’t need, but these guns are the coolest shit ever. Rival is Nerf’s attempt to create a paintball-style craze for their guns, with bullet clips you can load in and facemasks and all that nonsense. The Zeus is the flagship rifle, actually using a motor to fire off these tiny little yellow balls at like a million miles a second. I got the blue version of the gun from Goodwill a few months ago and have been looking for a red one so I can hopefully challenge somebody to a deathmatch!

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Interestingly, we got to talking and the guy decided to give me another Nerf gun he had sitting in a box for free! No need for it, but maybe I can give it to a friend. That brings me to another quick flea market tip…

Flea Market Tip 002: Be Friendly – I know it’s tempting to try and escape a point-of-sale transaction with as few words exchanged as possible. After all, this is the modern world, and our terrible anxieties make talking to other humans without a computer screen between us almost impossible!

That being said, by simply striking up a friendly conversation you get on the good side of the seller, and sometimes they’ll be willing to cut you a better deal (without you even asking!) just because you seem like such a swell fellow. Even better, by letting them know through your conversation that you like to collect games, they may be able to inform you of other deals in the area, or even invite you to take a look at some extra stock they left sitting in the house/van/wherever. A smile will get you far.

(Pricey Pete doesn’t get a smile though. With guys like that you gotta be cold, let them know that you won’t be taken for a fool!)

Booth #3 – Cool Jim

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I don’t know this guy’s actual name but it probably isn’t Jim. Anyway, this guy is cool. When I first discovered his table I took him for a Pricey Pete, but after a few decent scores I realized he’s just very knowledgeable about his prices. There is a difference. Pete’s stuff is straight up overpriced, never willing to cut a deal, always trying to squeeze a few extra dollars out of his buyers whenever possible. Cool Jim just wants a fair price, and if you’re a decent guy, he can probably knock $5 off the top.

Anyhow, grabbed a complete copy of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for $22. Looking on eBay, this is towards the top end of prices, but that’s okay. A sale like this keeps our unspoken relationship friendly, and makes it possible that he’ll give me a good deal on a future item.

Worth noting that he had a sealed copy of Zelda: Oracle of Ages for $50. I don’t personally collect sealed games (I’ll talk about why some other time), but even unsealed copies can go for that much, with sealed copies occasionally ending at above $100. I hate trying to flip games like this, but maybe it’s worth it… I told him I may be back next week.

Booth #4 – The Travelling Store

This is one you’ll see a lot as a video game collector, the random retail gaming store that packs up its wares to sell at the flea market on weekends. The stock is occasionally nice, since they have new games coming in, but the prices are rarely great. Case in point, I saw Neo Contra for $25 ($16 on eBay) and Conker’s Bad Fur Day (Complete) for $150 ($110-$130 on eBay).

Also of note is this:

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If you ever wondered what a case full of bootleg GBA games looks like, there it is. Maybe about half the games in there are real, but if you take a close look, there’s lots of copies of Metroid Fusion, Harvest Moon, Sonic Advance, Dragonball Z and others all with weird fake labels which are actually peeling away from the cartridges.

Flea Market Tip 003: Don’t Buy Fake GBA Games – There are more of these than you might expect. Always take a look at the front and back of a game, sometimes the Nintendo logo embossed on the back will be weird (I used to have some carts labelled “Ninfendo”), or the label colors will be off. Expect popular games like Pokemon to be the most commonly bootlegged, as sellers can still get $20-$30 for them.

Here’s a good forum post on avoiding bootlegs. I think the best tip is to look for the small numbers embossed on the front label. It’s a small weird detail that most bootleggers would likely ignore.

Booth #5 – The Pile of Crap

Some booths are immaculately lain out tables full of perfectly arranged goodies. Others look like somebody opened the back of a U-Haul and let it spill onto the pavement. The latter is… kind of more fun to dig through!

Anyhow, as I got towards the end of the flea market I saw a bunch of people rummaging through boxes and joined in. Lo’ and behold, I found a Model 1 Genesis just sitting there. I asked how much it was.

“Free” they told me. “All this stuff is free.”

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Free Genesis. No cords, but can’t argue with the price!

Final Tally

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – $22 (eBay est. price $24) +$2

Nerf Zeus Rifle – $15 (eBay est. price $50) +$35

Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 (Value negliable)

Sega Genesis Model 1 (No Cords) – Free! (eBay est. price $10) +$10

Entry Fee – $1

Total Spent: $37.00
Total Est. Value: + $84.00

Not a bad day!


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