Urge to dicker reigns at North Point Serious savers flock to flea market

August 23, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

Shortly after humans began hunting and gathering, they probably began dickering, haggling and hawking what they had hunted and gathered -- at 50, 60 or even 70 percent off.

Every weekend when the weather is good, that primal urge to bargain transforms a derelict drive-in movie theater and former roller rink on North Point Boulevard into the modern equivalent of the ancient bazaar.

It may not be Marrakesh or Isfahan, but the North Point Arena Flea Market -- one of a half-dozen flea markets in the area -- can draw up to 440 sellers and 6,000 customers on a bustling summer Sunday, backing up traffic along the boulevard for a quarter mile.

They come from as far away as New York to buy or sell the outgrown and the outmoded, the surplus and the scratched, the dented and the disposable.

Laid out in the late summer sunshine yesterday were rods and reels, old televisions, used Nintendo players, new NRA caps, car jacks, teapots, beer glasses, cordless phones, power saws, screwdrivers, rusty levels, bowling balls, old ice skates, Confederate flags, Desert Storm T-shirts, BB guns, heavy metal CDs, and stacks of record albums, including "The Mamas and the Papas: Sixteen of Their Greatest Hits."

This tangle of merchandise sat on folding tables and blue tarpaulins and old blankets and card

board boxes.

It spilled out of about 260 pickup trucks and Blazers and Econolines and Club Wagons and other vehicles, most parked rear end-up along the gently rolling aisles of the former drive-in. About 180 part-time merchants set up shop inside the former roller rink.

Conrad Allen, 32, his long blond hair straying out of his blue cap, has a job selling housewares in a store during the week. But yesterday, he was in the motion picture business, working out of the back of a truck.

He and his partners bought the leftover stock of a video store that went belly up, and he's trying to unload videocassettes with titles such as "Blood Cult," "Messenger of Death," "Alice to Nowhere" and "Morons from Outer Space." He's asking $10 for three.

"This was what was left after they took out all the 'A' stuff," he said cheerfully. "These movies are all the dregs."

Not interested in a shlock movie? How about car wax? Mr. Allen was selling an 18-ounce bottle, list price $6, for $3 yesterday. Half price on Prestone antifreeze, too.

"The stuff comes from bankruptcy auctions, or its packaging is damaged or it's discontinued -- the manufacturer isn't making it anymore, so they clear it out cheap to get rid of it," he said.

Customers don't seem to mind. "I think the economy is forcing more and more people into shopping this way," he said.

Vic Johnson, a 29-year-old shoe salesman from Baltimore, stood next to his pile of Zen Intergalactic Ninja action figures, Norfin Troll dolls and "Light and Lace Barbie" dolls. All the toys were new, still in their slightly scuffed, slightly dusty boxes.

"Believe me, I'm not making any money," a serious-looking Mr. Johnson told a customer holding a doll. "I'm losing money. I'm just getting rid of this stuff."

Mr. Johnson took a moment to explain his approach to the ancient art of selling. "You just got to know what to say at the right time," he said. "Just say something that convinces them. Something that hits them."

When he and his partners come to North Point Arena and pay their $10 for a stall, he said, they have to be prepared to work hard, and to bargain. "This is where the cheaper people are at," he said. "If you have something cheap, bring it here."

A voice suddenly boomed over the market's public address system: "You're not to sell any guns, or leave the grounds!" one market employee growled. "No selling of guns! Thank you!"

Market manager Dottie Stevens explained later that several market customers had mistaken a hand tool being sold at one stall for a pistol. The flea market's rules, she said, are simple: sellers can't peddle firearms, pets or home-cooked foods. (The last, she said, is by order of the county health department.)

Later, Ms. Stevens' voice thundered from the loudspeakers.

"Oh, ladies!" she said. "Watch your pocketbooks! The thieves are loose again."

Steve Thomas, a deputy sheriff from Bel Air, paid his 25-cent admission fee yesterday to hunt down sports memorabilia for his basement club room. He's especially interested in Baltimore Colts souvenirs, though no one seemed to have any yesterday.

Instead, Mr. Thomas snapped up two mint condition "Baltimore Stars" banners: mementos of the short-lived United States Football League franchise that played for a while in College Park.

His wife, Denise Thomas, a court reporter, is the more practical shopper. She looks for baby diapers and socks at flea markets -- and recently paid $15 for an $80 car seat. Her mother, she said, stalks the markets looking for old tools, such as circular saws, on which she paints landscapes.

Susan Jackson, 29, of Rosedale recalled how her mother brought her to flea markets every weekend when she was a child. Yesterday, she brought her husband, Mark, 29, and her daughter, Rebecca, 4, to North Point Arena to sift through bins of merchandise.

"I used to hate it, until I got to be an adult," she said. "Then I saw what great bargains there are."

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