My reasons for penning this article are twofold. My first reason if I’m completely honest is just to vent off some mental steam after my latest visit to what was once a pleasant part of my pastime. The second is to reminisce about car boots of old, times now past before car boot sales became the domain of the online auction reseller.
In times gone by…
I have been going to car boot sales for as long as I can remember, at least 25 years probably longer. In that time I have seen them grow from 10-20 cars in a pub car park to 20 acre fields filled with regimented lines of thousands of cars, along with bacon buttie vans galore and facilities like toilets and electrical testing stations. From the organisation point of view, I have also seen much of the fun go out of them. Not only are they run on an industrial scale but they are run in an industrial way, with scores of stewards in flourescent jackets herding you in and out like a military operation and often taking money just for you to park up.
I don’t have to go far back, maybe only 7-10 years or so, to remember a time when (before the retro boom) I could still find boxed Atari STs, 2600s, C64s, ZX Spectrums with crisp boxes full of software and often rarer items such as TRS-80s and TI-99s all just sitting there hours into a car boot sale, untouched and with people walking by uninterested. Indeed, I have bought much of my current boxed collection of consoles from car boot sales over the years. Those days are long gone.
None of these reasons, although all very unsavoury to me, are why I am finally giving up on what was a really fun part of my pastime.
All good things come to an end
The straw that broke the camels back came last Sunday when I unusually went to a local car boot sale at its official opening time of 6.00am. Now, I normally turn up an hour or so after opening and for the past 5 or so years I have noticed a considerable decline in retro items for sale. I have (maybe naively) been putting this down to the retro boom and the fact that people know what retro gaming items are worth nowadays, therefore holding on to them and not taking them to sell at a car boot.
The early arrival last Sunday opened my eyes to what is actually happening at our car boot sales now.
What lay before me was only one row of booters (it was early and they were still rolling in) and what I would estimate to be about 100-150 buyers. Most hadn’t even started unpacking their boots and the buyers were like vultures on roadkill. I witnessed people running after cars as they drove across the field to their pitches, questioning the occupants as to whether they had any DVDs, records, mobile phones and yes, you guessed it, old games and consoles. No sooner as the car booters had opened their hatches, hands were grabbing, taking items out and buyers, many with already full sack-type bags on their back, were haggling the prices down like tourists in a souk. The scene was made worse still by buyers actually arguing with each other as to who saw something first, I witnessed two grown men almost come to blows over a £3 netbook with each staking claim to it.
But we are only just getting to the really sad part. Standing slightly away from the flurry of grabbing hands were whole groups of buyers selling what they had just bought from the booters to each other for profit. Most of these sellers had full sacks of stuff already and many of them were full of video games and consoles. Obviously they were just buying anything they thought they could make profit on.
I’m pretty sure what I was witnessing was a result of the rise in popularity of online auctions and that most of these vultures were in fact online auction resellers. It was certainly clear that they weren’t after items for themselves if many of them were willing to sell on there and then for a small profit.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that even the humble car boot sale has been taken over by greed, but I still find it depressing. I don’t feel I can be a part of what I witnessed last week, I came away feeling somehow tainted by the experience. Unless there comes a time when boot sales no longer suffer from the curse of resellers, I’m not even sure I will ever bother going to one again. So when you are next at a car boot sale and wonder where all the retro items are, just blame greed… oh, and a certain online auction site.