Charging Forward: Is Internet Killing the Swap Meet Star?

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photos by: the author

We Take a Closer Look at the Relevance of the Swap Meet in the 21st Century 

Yup, I’m popping the $64,000 question, because as we recently visited a few different swap meets over the summer, the thought had crossed our minds. Before this thing called the Internet came along, there were only a few ways to obtain quality used parts from other enthusiasts; the local classifieds, word of mouth from a mutual friend or from the swap meets.

In the last few decades, though, things have changed. Classified and auction sites such as eBay, Craigslist and RacingJunk.com have all but killed off the swap meet. Across the county, and even various parts of the world, attendance is down and entrance and vendor space fees have been on the rise.

“Classified and auction sites such as eBay, Craigslist and RacingJunk.com have all but killed off the swap meet.”

But even as this is the case, many enthusiasts including your author, have always chosen a more personal experience, and the capability to closely inspect used parts before making a purchase. Plus, there’s no other way to see such a compilation of historical pieces of automotive history in one place, for sale, in various conditions and price ranges.

Much like the internet auction and classified sites of today, you deal directly with the seller, and are able to negotiate. Unlike the Internet, however, you’re able to do so without allowing the buyer or seller too much time to reconsider making a deal before the cash is exchanged. It’s more difficult to pass up on a deal if the price is right and the parts are tangible – and cash is visible.

“We’ve always admired the attention and personal service that you can only get from a swap meet.”

Despite being a digital-based publication, we’ve always admired the attention and personal service that you can only get from a swap meet. It allows you to mingle with show-goers and network with potential new outlets, services and even a new friend or two. It’s really the main reason that the swap meets continue to survive the digital age.

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On the flip side, the Internet offers buyers and sellers the convenience and luxury to reach a much larger audience from the comfort of their home, behind a computer. You simply take a few high-quality photos of the product you’re selling, upload it onto the whichever site you’re advertising from, leave a detailed description and post it! Thanks to the popularity of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, the number of potential customers you can reach is limitless. Because rather than dealing with a few thousand local event attendees, you’re reaching hundreds of thousands, even potentially millions of people.

Of course naturally, this makes a follow-up to sales/purchases part of the transaction. The Internet can be absolutely brutal to those who sell a product that is subpar or not as described. How many times have you purchased a used motor at a swap meet, only to tear it down back at the shop and realized it had three bent pushrods and the Number-3 piston had seized? It used to happen all of the time and still happens today – even through the Internet.

“You can’t get away with selling bunk parts or products as easily as you could with a swap meet exchange. And let’s not forget, how absolutely brutal the Internet can be to people.”

But the difference is, instead of purchasing something from someone you’ll likely never hear from again, the Internet supplies you with plenty of contact information; names, e-mail addresses, social media accounts and message forum info. You can’t get away with selling bunk parts or products as easily as you could with a swap meet exchange. And let’s not forget, how absolutely brutal the Internet can be to people.

So as I sit here typing this, the question still remains; is the swap meet still relevant in today’s world? Does it make sense to pay the entrance fee as an attendee if the possibility is there that you might not even buy anything? And does it make sense to rent a vendor’s space, if your parts don’t really meet the demographics of the area or if you barely break even?

If you’re a Millennial and are accustomed to the Internet, we suggest you check out a swap meet. It’s definitely worth the experience. If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-X’er and still don’t understand what the fuss is all about with the ‘net, then we invite you to take it for a test drive. Because we feel that a healthy balance of both serve all generations well.

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