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Since automotive swap meets began in the late 1940s or early ’50s, they have been a treasure chest of items for collectors, enthusiasts, project builders, professional auto shops, amateur “car people”, the curious, and families who embark on a bonding “car history day.” For many attendees, automotive swap meets are a bargain hunters’ paradise, but they are more than that. Swap meets offer the bargains, the collector pieces and hard-to-find parts, and they are also family events, networking hubs and can be annual can’t-miss experiences for car and car-part lovers.
The Spring Carlisle Collector Car Flea Market and Corral at the Carlisle Fairgrounds, in Carlisle, PA, is an evolution of the Fall Carlisle Collector Swap Meet & Car Corral in 1974, which led to a similar Spring event in 1977. Held on an 82-acre cornucopia of everything automotive, Spring Carlisle showcases 8,200 vending spaces, each filled with items from aftermarket to reconditioned parts to original parts to car care products. Event-experience motives aside, the primary goal of most who attend automotive swap meets, is finding the right part or parts … and finding them at the right price.
Tim Demark, Carlisle Events Vendors Manager said, “Vendors show classic used parts from tires to the top of the car, new parts for currents to antique parts for classics. They encompass all projects and needs. These parts can be had for the right price…if you understand the process.”
To be successful in swap meet shopping, have fun and be prepared. Demark said, “Swap meets are a picker’s haven if you adhere to these five Golden Rules:
1. Be methodical. Always write down the space marker of a vendor space at which you see an item you want to buy. If you see it and temporarily pass it up, you might not remember where it is.
2. Work the field in quadrants and sections and take notes on maps or directories. Break the field up using landmarks (e.g. the stage and grandstand; the infield and car corral; the north hill, etc.).
3. Wear comfortable shoes … it’s a large field.
4. You may need two three days to get it right. At Carlisle, we have 8,200 vendor spaces. Take your time or take a few days to see it all. And wear comfortable shoes … it’s a large field. Have fun seeing it all.
5. Bring something to haul your purchases, or remember that at Carlisle, we have free parts hauling that covers our 82 acres.
Demark added, “When shopping, the best tip is: Be aggressive. You can always ask, ‘is that the best you can do?’ The more aggressive you are, while being respectful and not low-balling too low, the better you can do. Don’t start a battle, but look for the truth … a true fair price.
Demark added, “Have fun and be flexible. Look hard and don’t be afraid to talk to the guy across from you – vendor or fellow shopper – he may have the answer or part you are looking for, or know where to find it.
Ed Buczeskie, Carlisle Spring and Fall and Imports Manager added, “ANY item can be had for a bargain. However, large items are typically the best for bargaining because they take up space and space is important. If someone sells a large item, it makes more space in the truck/trailer for the trip home.”
Buczeskie cautioned, “I would NOT recommend trying to bargain on something that’s already priced well. It’s already a deal. Take it and walk away. Why risk offending the seller if it’s already a good deal? But if you’re planning to negotiate, it helps to ‘read’ the seller before trying to bargain. Before even talking to the seller, try to watch how he/she deals with other potential buyers first if possible. Once you have a read on the seller, try to ‘match’ the seller’s demeanor. No matter what, BE RESPECTFUL. Respect can get you a better deal … sellers like giving deals to nice people. But in the end, it never hurts to try to negotiate if you are reasonable.”
Some of Buczeskie’s tips for buyers include:
1. If you find a deal, or it’s something you really need and you’re not likely to find another one, BUY IT NOW. If it’s a deal to you, it’s probably a deal to others, so someone else WILL buy it if you don’t.
2. Be prepared. Make a list of what you need before you come to the event. This will help you to remember what you’re looking for. You can share your needs with your buddies so they can also be on the lookout, and you can share with a vendor who might have similar item or know where to get it.
3. Do your homework on the parts you are looking for before you come to the event – what’s it worth, how hard is it to find, etc. This way you’ll know if you find a good deal.
In short, the top shopping tips to consider include:
1. Be prepared. Do your due diligence … research what you want to obtain.
2. Arrive early and look at everything you can, you might find a treasure you aren’t looking for. Also, by arriving early, you may get the deal before someone else does.
3. Haggle. Get the best respectful deal you can.
4. Network and talk to others. That’s part of the fun, part of the experience, and it could lead to the best deal or best item you can find.
5. Have fun. It is an event, after all. Enjoy the location, the conversations and the experience.
Next month, we’ll talk about how to make a deal (Swaps), after all, Spring Carlisle itself starts on April 21 and runs five days at the Carlisle PA Fairgrounds. To learn more about the event, purchase spectator tickets, secure vending space and more, call Carlisle Events at 717-243-7855 or visit them online at CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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