15 August 1997

Thrifting: A Definition (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

thrifting (thrift' ing) vi. 1. To visit many thrift stores during a day in search of certain items, particularly classic video games. 2. To regularly visit thrift stores in search of certain items.

In the United States and Canada, there are stores called "thrift stores," "thrift shops," or "those smelly places with a bunch of junk." They sell used items (primarily clothing) and are often run as money-makers for charities. Perhaps two of the best known organizations that run thrift stores are Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The items they sell are usually donated by individuals. They also tend to be a good source of classic home video games.

Hard-core collectors will visit as many local thrift stores as possible daily in search of new games. This is not entirely unreasonable, since a) thrift stores get new donations daily, b) competition for classic video games seems to be increasing as the supply decreases, and c) it will please Bira Bira, the guardian of the Reef Store and patron little-wooden-icon of classic video game collectors. Collectors who either have lives or are no longer in college are more likely to go semi-weekly, weekly, or just whenever they can. Making a round of local thrift stores is called "thrifting."

The two most common uses of the word are illustrated by the following typical conversation between collectors:

Collector #1: "I went thrifting yesterday and found [long list of unbelievably rare items]."
Collector #2: "I haven't had a chance to go thrifting lately."

In this case, Collector #2 has actually been thrifting regularly, but hasn't been finding anything. The one day he decided not to bother going, Collector #1 went. If it weren't for the fact that Collector #2 actually met him, Collector #1 might be "Sum Guy." Sum Guy has been reported all across the country, buying every classic video game in sight. Other collectors never see him, but always hear about him. Visit a thrift store or yard sale and ask if they have any old video games. There's a good chance you'll get the reply, "We did, but Sum Guy was here 15 minutes ago and bought 'em all."

If you don't let this discourage you and you begin thrifting, you'll discover that thrift stores come in a wide range of types, from "clean and organized" to "smell funny and things strewn everywhere in no recognizable pattern." The best stores for finding things, of course, are the latter, assuming a) you have time to dig for them and b) you don't let the smell get to you. It is recommended that you slowly work up your tolerance before spending a long time in such a store.

Here are a few helpful rules to remember when thrifting:
  1. Cartridges are priced by size. Therefore, a 5200 cartridge might cost three times the price of an Intellivision cartridge.
  2. Never let the employees send an item back to be priced. You will never see it again.
  3. The less money you have when you go, the more items you'll find.
  4. The nicer the cartridge label, the more grease pencil marks the store will have used to price it.
  5. If you only find part of a group of items, you will not find the rest of them that day. Either come back next week (or even next month) or look in a thrift store on the other side of town. That is where the other half is.
Good luck!

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[April 27, 2013: Ah, Bira Bira.  That's kind of a long story.  The short of it is, it was a small tiki carving that became a meme among collectors on rec.games.video.classic and was believed to bring good luck when thrifting.  Robert Batina, who ran the page the Bira Bira link used to go to, is still around, but unfortunately the Bira Bira pages seem to be no more.  "Sum Guy" was another meme that developed there; you can find more details on it at the bottom of my August 5, 2003 post.

Sadly, with the rise of ebay and just the general march of time, thrift store have become less and less a source for classic video games.  Sure you can still find PlayStation 2 games and such, but Atari 2600 cartridges, not so much.]