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The Flea Market Survivalist, by C.G. in N.C.

Skill and etiquette in the process of bartering can be a plus today or in a future time when the world could be completely different. In that future time your local mass marketing chain may not be in business. You may have to resort to barter. I loved the scene in Mr. Rawles’s book, “Patriots” [1], when the group goes to the local barter faire with a handful of .22 cartridges and some pre-1965 dimes. I can’t recall everything they got, but for their initial, pre-TEOTWAWKI [2] investment, they came out way ahead.
I have to confess to being a flea market survivalist. This is the result of my life circumstances and my psychological make-up. I am a touch, uh, frugal, and my resources are limited. I’m not embarrassed to buy something used with the possible exception of underwear and toothbrushes. In very hard times, even these reservations might be overcome.
First, let’s look at some reasons to search your local flea market or trade lot (I use the terms interchangeably, but prefer trade lot) and then go to the how-to of this option. The first reason is the most obvious. Buying second hand, or from someone who has little overhead will stretch your resources. Sometimes dramatically. Good examples from my personal experience are a box of 91 new disposable lighters for $5. Last year I also bought 50+ bars of soap for $5. These examples come to mind readily, but there are regular bargains to be had just like this. A second reason is that it’s fun. I’ve been doing this for years and I rarely tire of this shopping challenge. Some people don’t like it, some have never tried it. The fun element may surprise you. Another thing that draws people to trade lots is the variety of objects that turn up. You just never know what you may find. Guns are an example. In my state, North Carolina, vendors can’t sell handguns at their tables. They may have a pistol at home they might want to sell, but that’s a private transaction that I’m really not talking about here. However, long guns of every description can be found. Good prices generally, but the real upside is that you leave no paper trail. Sometimes a good ol’ boy who needs some money may be walking around with a rifle or shotgun on his shoulder wanting someone to ask him how much he wants for it. Don’t hesitate if you are interested. A Mauser 8mm or single shot shotgun can generally be had for a hundred dollar bill or possibly a touch less. Sometimes a lot less. Another reason to look for used tools is that sometimes older tools or goods were of better quality. You also may be able to find something that is no longer made that is still useful. You may find something at a bargain that you can re-sell. A friend of mine recently bought a $3,000 Nikon-made underwater camera for $3. I bought a book for a quarter that sold for over $100 on Amazon.com [3]. I could go on and on, but hopefully this will induce you to at least check out your local flea market. The main reason is to save money.
Alright, let’s say you have never been to a flea market and don’t want to get swindled. The very first rule is to know about what it is that you want to purchase. If you are looking for an 8mm Mauser specifically, know the difference between the various models of Mausers and then consider other guns that might be a viable substitute. Maybe a Mosin Nagant 7.62×54 or even a Steyr Mannlicher in 8x56R. Know how to pull the bolt out to check the bore, or have a bore light. Dry firing is not kosher, but you may ask the owner if he has fired the weapon. {just like at a gun show], always ask permission before you pick up any firearm. Permission will generally be given if you ask. Bottom line, know what you are looking at, whether it is firearms or cast iron skillets. Read up. Ask questions. Compare prices.
Now if the article is something you are interested in, you eventually have to ask “How much?” It may or may not have a price tag. If you know what you want and how much they go for, you may conclude you don’t want this piece for that price. But if you are confident the price is realistic, then you may say, “Gee, that’s a little more than I wanted to spend. Could you do any better?” or “I think that’s a nice piece. I could go $__.” Unless the price is very good, and even if it is, ask for a better price. Politely. It’s part of the game. All they can say is no. I bought an old Singer Sewing machine last year. The man had a patch under the needle that he had sewed to show that it worked. It was probably a 1940s model, all steel. He was asking $10. I offered him $8 and he took it. A friend who works on sewing machines cleaned it, lubed it, and replaced the power cord for free. I have $8 in a nice little antique Singer Sewing Machine that works like a charm. Always ask for a better price, but be courteous.
On the other side of the coin, never hesitate to walk away. You may walk down the aisle and come back the vendor may drop the price a touch because he knows you are interested. Don’t try to talk someone down by degrading their goods. Pointing out some superficial scratches is okay, but a serious badmouthing of someone’s goods usually doesn’t work. Interest with an “I don’t know…” attitude will generally induce a price reduction if it’s going to happen at all. They may be firm in the price, and you will usually figure that out quickly. Then decide if you want to pay the asking price.
So what sort of things would be useful in survival preparations that you might see at trade lots? Almost anything. Camping gear. Firearms, ammunition and accessories. Tools of all descriptions. First aid supplies. Produce for canning or drying. Building supplies. Candles and kerosene lamps. Clothing. Retreat furnishings. Cooking/canning supplies and equipment. Military surplus. The list is unlimited. Is there anything that you cannot find or that you want to avoid purchasing at your local trade lot? Well, knock off designer clothing and out of date food comes to mind. Obviously you will have to sort through a lot of Chinese made junk, but this goes back to knowing what you want. One item I am considering for post collapse barter is the inexpensive knives that are out there now. I’m pretty surprised at the $5 knives available. Yeah, they are made in Pakistan, but save them for future barter to people who never thought they would need a pocket knife or sheath knife. You may end up being a blessing to them.
What are some of the tricks of the trade for a buyer? Well, here are a few things that I do.
-Many times bargains can be found in a box on the ground beside the vendors table. It’s a low priority and he is just hoping to sell an item or two for a few bucks. I look through it and if I find an item I want, say a home made knife, I’ll offer two or three dollars for the whole box. That way you get what you want for your price and may find another treasure in the box when you get home.
-If there is a container that has some items that I could use in bulk, but I know I can’t afford for the posted price, I’ll ask, “Look, how much for the whole box of (whatever)?” Sometimes the price is dropped significantly. That way you can afford to stash them away for later. That’s the way I got the soap and lighters I mentioned above.
-There are two ways of looking at when to shop. Some people go as the goods are being put on display to find a treasure that will surely be snapped up in the first minutes of business. This could be very early. At early trade lots, that is, a site that opens and usually closes early, I’ve seen people looking before sunup with flashlights. Another approach is to wait until just before closing time when vendors may drop their price to keep from having to load it up and put it in storage again. Try both methods and see what works best for you.
-Try to get to know some of the people who are dealers if they are regulars. They may automatically give you a good price if they know you are a repeat customer.
-Sometimes the real bargains can be found by people who just want to clean out their house and really don’t want to make a living selling their junk. Cookware, nuts and bolts, wool blankets, or a half box of .32 cartridges, may go for next to nothing. Sometimes, not always, you can get an idea of the quality of the merchandise by what [vehicle] the seller is driving and wearing. A nicely dressed lady in a mini van may have some nice stuff. But the useful bargains generally come from the farmer who cleans out his barn or shed just to make room. You will develop an eye [for that] after time.
So will this skill help in a post apocalypse society? The general principles will apply. Know what you want and what it is worth. Try to know who you are dealing with for the best prices. But most of all, knowing what is available right now at bargain prices will help you to build up your survival supplies. Look for quality. Watch for expiration dates. Dicker. And have fun.