As a mainly retro video game collector, I find most of my deals at thrift stores and garage sales locally. Sites like Craigslist and eBay are now very saturated with other resellers like myself trying to make a profit on their rare games. I can never justify paying tons for a vintage game, and at thrift stores I can often find $1 and $2 deals for games that sell upwards of $20 plus shipping on eBay. I will go through a few of my secret weapons for picking and finding great deals locally on vintage and new gen games.
Tip 1 – Visit Frequency
Hitting a thrift store every single day can be time consuming, but it will be very rewarding. Thrift stores and pawn shops literally put out new inventory every few hours. If you want to be grabbing the best stuff before the other pickers do you have to check back regularly. I pass a Value Village on my way to and from work every day, so I will try to stop by there on the way home for a quick scan as much as possible. One of my local reuse centers told me that a guy comes and cleans them out of all games every Thursday mornings, so I started to head there on Wednesday nights.
Tip 2 – Knowledge Is Power, but don’t let it show
Knowing the value of games is one of the most important parts of getting good deals. If you don’t know how much a game is valued at online, chances are you aren’t going to be able to judge if its worth it or not. Sometimes I will see a game I am not totally sure if its worth the $5 or not. This is where the eBay app for any smart phones is the most epic tool available. I can quickly enter the title of the game to check completed sales and see if I’m better off just getting it shipped from eBay. However, don’t go around boasting about your retro game knowledge, and don’t be freaking out when you find a complete copy of Secret of Mana for just $2 – employees are less likely to hook you up with deals and discounts if they know you are picking as an expert reseller rather than just some dude looking to relive some childhood gaming memories.
Tip 3 – Make Friends
Make friends with the employees. Seriously, do it. This is how I have gotten more deals at thrift stores than any other way. If you have just done a browse and find no games or very little, as an employee if there are any old games kicking around in the back room, or if any just came in. Often times these games haven’t even been priced yet and you can simply make an offer. I once got an entire garbage bag full of Sega Genesis and CD stuff for $20 that was in the back of a thrift store’s basement.. it had been donated about 20 minutes before I showed up. I even have a guy at a local Goodwill call me directly if any retro game lots come in, and I go pay top dollar right away. Its win-win for them as it doesn’t take up room in the store and they get the charity money much quicker.
Another non-thrift store tip would be to ask any of your existing friends if they have any of their old game systems collecting dust in their basement or their parent’s garage. You would be very surprised to see how many times when I bust out my SNES for a session when some newer friends are over I hear “Oh hey I think my mom still kept all my old Nintendo crap in her basement, do you want it?” Epic win.
Tip 4 – Get to know the layout of the store
The obvious first thing would be to know where the games are kept on display at your local thrift stores, but what about the other areas? Most often employees of the stores are not gamers and will easily mistake a video game for something else. Scan the music CD section for Dreamcast or PSX games or even more rare things like games from the Philips CDi or TurboGrafx. Learn what the spine on these games typically looks like and go from there, I can now spot the “Greatest Hits” neon green on a Playstation game in the stack of music CD’s from across the store. I have also had luck finding Genesis and NES boxed games in the VHS tapes. A friend of mine scored a complete NES action set where all the kids toys, stuffed animals, and board games are. Check everywhere that someone could mistake a game or console for something else, outside of the box thinking goes a long way here.