I MOVED FROM PENNSYLVANIA TO CALIFORNIA in 1978, ending up in Napa. It was a nice little city that more or less served as the northbound gateway to the wine country. I immediately made friends with the owner of the city’s only used-record store, who I will call Haitch. I had recently discovered Goldmine magazine, then more or less at its peak of circulation and importance in the collecting community.
I needed to score an inventory of records to sell through ads that I intended to place in that magazine. As anyone who has ever attempted to set up a business in collectable items, finding and maintaining an inventory can be nigh on impossible. Like so many such shops, Haitch had a bargain bin, filled with LPs that either no one (among record collectors) wanted or albums that were wanted but were in less than desirable condition. You know, Beatles Capitol albums in VG- back when the NM copies were worth only $20; that sort of thing. He charged 50¢ apiece for these gems.
I approached Haitch with this deal: after closing his shop on Saturday, I would pick up about 1,000 of his bargain bin albums. I would take them to the Napa Valley Flea Market on Sunday, set up tables, and attempt to sell them. I would return the albums Sunday afternoon and he would receive his 50¢ for each record sold. A win/win arrangement. He agreed and so it was so . . .
So, that Sunday morning I had two banquet tables laid out with albums. I had made a huge paper banner that hung across the two tables that read:
ALBUMS $3 EACH or 3 FOR $8
I had a handful of lookers the first few Sundays and did not sell enough to cover costs. But then, profit wasn’t my goal: finding people with albums of their own who wanted to sell them was!
Needless to say, I needed to attract more attention. About the fifth week, inspiration arrived and I changed the banner to read:
ALBUMS $3 EACH / 3 FOR $10
And it worked: I had people at my table all day long! Perhaps they were amused; perhaps they figured if I was too stupid to know basic math then I might be too stupid to know good, valuable records when I had them and would sell them those $20 Beatles albums for $3. As the kids say, “Whatever.”
While I scored a few minor collections from my customers, it was not enough to justify the effort. (And for those of you who have never sold at a flea market, the preparation on Saturday, the getting up at an ungawdly early hour on Sunday, the setting up and the sitting around, the cost of the inventory and the tables and food . . .
Well, you have to either love it or make a lot of money to do it more than a few times.) So it was that after a few more weeks—with no fanfare—the “great mispriced record sale” experiment came to a close.