The Beginner’s Guide To LEGO Star Wars Collecting 105: Toy Runs

The toy run, a staple collecting activity in the 1990s and early 2000s, might be long gone thanks to the closure of so many chains of toy stores and the rise of the Internet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still jump in your car and hit up a dozen retailers in the hope of scoring recently released sets.

The popularity of the toy run probably peaked on May 3rd, 1999 when the product release – dubbed Midnight Madness – for The Phantom Menace took place and saw FAO Schwartz and Toys “R” Us, among others, open their doors at the stroke of midnight for hungry collectors to get their first glimpse of the toys from the first Star Wars movie in 16 years. It was so successful (Toys “R” Us alone reported the sale of over 50,000 LEGO Star Wars sets in less than three hours) that Midnight Madness was repeated – with less success – for Attack of the Clone and Revenge of the Sith.

There’s a distinct advantage to shopping in the real world for collectors who want their sets in as pristine a condition as possible, however, the downside is that it is time-consuming and increases exposure to contact and airborne-transmitted diseases. Admittedly this last con is one that hasn’t been an issue 19 of the 20 years that Star Wars has been a LEGO license.

For the most part, the places you can buy LEGO in the real world are no different from those online retailers who stock toys: Kmart, Target, Cloud Nine, Walmart and LEGO brand retail and certified stores – as well as many discount warehouses, booksellers, department stores.

It’s worth noting that while shopping experiences are largely the same from branch to branch, there is a difference between a LEGO a brand retail and a certified store – chiefly that the latter will have a completely different VIP Rewards program and the in-store calendar will be different so events (like make & take builds) and special occasions such as May The 4th Be With You won’t be the same.

Aside from what’s available at big box stores, there are a number of alternative options available to the collector, because there are quite a number of small LEGO shops – known as monobrand stores – that have purchasing agreements with wholesalers and retain their independence. Portraying themselves as official LEGO stores and operating successful businesses, these monobrand stores – which can be found all over the world – caused LEGO to create the certified store program.

Shying away from the eye of LEGO, a number of resellers call themselves building brick stores, allowing themselves to sell second-hand sets, loose bricks and accompanying non-licensed products like display stands and accessories.

One such after-market store is Bricks & Minifigs, a franchise chain that has over 40 stores in the US (and now Canada) They claim to be the largest toy store of their kind and offer a selection of new and used sets, individual minifigures, bulk bricks, components and accessories.

Local knowledge and good web search skills are the key to finding these stores, which often contain hidden gems and long-forgotten sets, who commonly buy up collections and bulk LEGO at garage sales to keep their stock levels up without dealing with LEGO direct.

Successfully buying secondhand LEGO is a challenge in itself, and stores like Atlanta Brick Co. go to great lengths to make sure that sets are complete and pieces are clean and in good condition. Of course, this adds to the price you’ll pay, so if you want to do the legwork yourself there are some tricks you can employ to come away with that you want.

Before hitting the garage sales, start at second-hand or charity shops, where people clearing out toys will often take their old LEGO. You’ll often find partly assembled sets or boxes full of loose bricks, and quite often the staff doesn’t know what they have or if the set is complete – meaning you’ll likely pick up a bargain. More often than not you’ll need to find missing pieces and give everything a good clean, but in the long run you’ll save money and give to a good cause.

The same is true for flea markets, though sellers are usually a bit more savvy about what they are selling and will see a LEGO Star Wars set as a chance to increase the price. Before trying to haggle, know what the set should have and what the cost of completing it will be.

Whether you call them a yard, garage or car boot sales, these are often the best source of cheap LEGO sets. Map your garage sale run out in advance to minimize your effort. Timing is also key – arrive early to snap up the good stuff and come late for the bargains (though the selection will be lower).

You’ll likely end up with all kinds of extraneous toys like toy soldiers, Hot Wheels cars, random coins, Nerf darts, and (heaven forbid) Mega Bloks bricks – so have a good sift through bulk buys to gauge how much non-LEGO material is in the box before committing to a purchase.

Parents who want to clear out their kids’ toy cupboards will often be unaware of the value and be willing to accept a lowball offer. Go with an open mind and carry cash.

Finally, there are conventions and toy fairs; these generally fall into two categories fixed – like BrickCon in Seattle, Brickvention (Melbourne, Australia), the Great Western Brick Show (Swindon, UK) or the Skærbæk Fan Weekend held near Billund and touring shows such as Brick Universe (USA), Brick Events in Australia and Brick Live (UK).

The main difference between the two is that the former will be run as a not-for-profit by local fans and LEGO User Groups (LUGs), allowing LEGO to officially support and – to some extent – take part in these events – while the latter are largely commercial enterprises which excludes LEGO from participating directly.

In either case, LEGO resellers will be in attendance and the general layout will allow attendees to enjoy various MOC builds and displays of personal collections, before the ubiquitous “exit through the gift shop” routine where purchases can be made.

In addition to these small to medium scale events are the major conventions – such as San Diego or New York Comic-Con and Star Wars Celebration. More often than not, an official LEGO footprint at the show will include a limited retail space catering for the event’s focus, as well as pedaling the latest exclusive set.

That’s it for this week’s installment – did we miss anything or do you have some tips and tricks – or maybe some cautionary tales – to share? If you do, please drop us a comment below.

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