Game Hunter’s Journal: Thrift Shops

19 Feb

Goodwill LogoIt should be no surprise that thrift shops like Goodwill and Salvation Army are locations to hunt for games: I’ve already talked of them in the past. If looking for the cheapest deals on video games, consoles, accessories, and everything in between, then thrift stores should become your new hangout of choice. Not only do these store sell games, they sell games on the cheap, regardless of rarity, popular price, and condition. A good deal of luck will play a role in whether or not you walk out the finger-smudged sliding glass doors with a gem in your hand or with nothing at all, but for a game collector on a budget, thrift shops need to be on your radar.


What thrift shops are you talking about?

The most notable and widespread reseller of donated goods, AKA the thrift shop, would be Goodwill. There is usually a Goodwill store in every semi-major city in the United States, oftentimes with bigger cities having more than one storefront. The smiling blue logo is easy to find and the most abundant store in this category. The only other major outlet I know of is the Salvation Army. It operates almost identically to Goodwill, and from my experiences always seems to be a bit better organized and/or managed than Goodwill stores. While there aren’t nearly as many Salvation Army stores as Goodwills, you can run into their shops every now and again. Outside of those two major retailers I can’t name any more by name. A quick Google search can turn up thrift shops in your area, some may be big corporations, others may be mom and pop joints. Basically if a store resells donated goods including electronics, there’s a chance they have video games.

Macklemore Thrift Shop

Googling “Thrift Shop” returns the song of the same name by rapper Macklemore. Strangely, it’s a catchy song. You should listen to it!

What should I look for when inside?

Video games, of course!

Every store is different, so the exact location of games will vary from place to place. Even so, as a rule of thumb you should look in these place:

Behind the glass: Goodwill and many other thrift shops will place more expensive items in a glass showcase or a glass counter. These should become beacons to you, as this is the easiest place to find video games.
The electronics aisle: Not the best place to find video games, it is a good place to look regardless. If a store gets in a used game console or accessories like controllers or peripherals, they’d go in this aisle.
The movie section: Since just about all games PS2 and onward come in standard DVD cases, thrift stores often place video games in with the movies. Take your time and peruse the entire movie section and you might find that familiar Sony PlayStation logo next to thirteen copies of “A Christmas Story”
The CD section: The exact same thing happens with CDs and games that came in standard jewel cases. PS1, Dreamcast, and PC games will oftentimes be housed with the CDs. Again, be patient and sift through all the crappy music and you just might find a game or two
Behind the counter: It’s not are common for this to happen, but some stores I’ve been to placed all their electronics behind the counter and you had to ask to view them. If you don’t see any electronics in the store, just ask an employee if there are any behind the counter or anywhere else and they’d be happy to assist you.

This sucks! I haven’t found anything!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Fear not my friend. You must be vigilant in your hunting. When searching for video games and thrift shops, you’re more often going to walk out of the store with nothing at all, or at least not anything game related. This is normal. Be patient and don’t expect to walk into any ol’ Goodwill and expect to find a copy of Suikoden II sitting on the shelf. I would say for ever ten times I visit a Goodwill store, I only leave once with a purchase.

Even though I don’t always buy something when I venture inside that doesn’t mean they didn’t have any games. Usually a store will carry something game related, it’s just making the commitment to purchase that might get passed.

What should I look out for?

There’s a few things to consider when purchasing a game from a thrift shop:

Is the game in line with my collecting standards? By that I namely mean will the game fulfill your criteria for being in your game collection (i.e., is the game complete, loose, new, etc…)
Is the item working? Unfortunately some of the products thrift stores sell don’t always get tested before being put on the shelf. This is the risk you take however when making a purchase. If you’re on the fence with a game, just assume it’ll work and then decide to buy or not.

You'll want to avoid these. For obvious reasons.

You’ll want to avoid these. For obvious reasons.

Is the item even there?! Another unfortunate issue with Goodwill and other thrift shops, every so often you’ll come across a game case with no game inside. Shoplifters can get the five finger discount and totally ruin your day! Just make sure they don’t have the game disc behind the counter before giving up all hope.
How beat up is the item? 99% of items at thrift stores are used, and most gamers out there aren’t as careful with their games as you and I. Always always always inspect the back of each disc before making a purchase. Some scratches are alright, but gashes and chipping are deal breakers.

This is way too much work. Is it even worth it?

I often see people react strangely when I tell them I want to stop at a random Goodwill I spot. When asked I tell them I want to look for video games. Their response is always something like this:

Dear god, why?

Dear god, why?

Without a doubt, it is always worth it to stop in a thrift shop to look for games. Yeah, you’re going to miss a lot when taking the chance, but you can hit it big every so often as well. And these finds are what make every past trip totally worth it.

Here’s what you could be coming across while searching through the shelves:

Diablo for the PlayStation for $3

Mappy-Land and Super Mario Bros. 2 complete in box for $3 each

Two Wii remotes, a nunchuck, and Wii Motion Plus in perfect condition for $12 total

A Sega Saturn system and controller for $20

Strategy guides for StarCraft and Tekken 3

Those are all real examples that I either bought myself or witnessed one of my friends buy. Those are deals that will make a believer out of ANY collector. And those aren’t even all of the games and items I’ve come across.

If you have a stigma for Goodwill and other thrift stores, thinking their dirty or places where poor people shop, you really need to get over it. Not only is that an entirely untrue generalization, it’s also an excuse for not attempting to find what are easily the best deals you’ll find when hunting for video games and goodies. With these rules in mind, you too can come up with a great find that will make you feel good for spending all that time looking through the thrift store shelves!

Happy Hunting,


Posted by on 02/19/2013 in Collecting


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4 responses to “Game Hunter’s Journal: Thrift Shops

  1. martianoddity

    02/25/2013 at 4:03 pm

    I love Thrift shops, not only because of the books but also for the video games one can find.
    And occasional nostalgic toys and stuff as well, for like, nothing.

    • jsicktheslick

      02/25/2013 at 4:56 pm

      For sure. You never really know what you’ll find in a thrift shop!

  2. JJ M. (@jjmahoney3)

    02/26/2013 at 2:39 pm

    It’s just unfortunate that some of them (like a big one near my office) think that an old PS1 is worth $25. Or the original Game Boy carts should be $7. Nope.

    • jsicktheslick

      02/26/2013 at 2:43 pm

      Agreed. It’s not entirely their faults though: they simply don’t know what they have.
      Even so, on the other side of that token is a great gem of a game for a significantly lower price than anywhere else. Hopefully you find that side more than the other.


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