The Berlin Mart ain’t what it used to be…

Maybe it was NEVER the way it used to be! People have told me that it used to be called The Berlin Auction, and they had actual auctions there, but that was before my day.  For me, I have many memories at The Berlin Mart in Berlin, New Jersey.  I’ve gone there, on and off, for many years, even in the Winter.  It’s managed to survive many decades now, and while some things have changed, many things remain.  I apologize in advance for not having taken any pictures on my last trip there with Carol and the boys, but I was saddened during my last trip enough to say that it’s going to be a long time before I make the trek out there again.

The Berlin Mart Sensory Overload Experience is STILL there!

Berlin Mart Donut
The last donut from the Berlin Mart from the batch we bought. STILL YUMMY!

TO BE FAIR, and because many people often don’t read further than the first few paragraphs, I’ll put the good news FIRST.

I am glad to see many of the ‘old’ stores and experiences are STILL THERE. After having gone up and down the isles of disappointing flea vendors, see below, we went toward the South entrance. Past an electronics shop in a barn affair, there is an apple cider vendor and the donut shop.  Now, this donut shop is the rinky-est, dinky-est little shack you’ve ever seen, but people STAND IN LINE for these donuts.  There’s quite a selection too!  Sugar Cinnamon and Glazed.  While they are BAD for your diet, (I’m guessing each donut has at LEAST 2 teaspoons of oil) they are HEAVENLY.


But the apple cider stand and donut shack are the “up” side of the Berlin Mart sensory rollercoaster.  Because after you’ve had your apple cider in the paper cup that’s just a little too thin to hold comfortably and finish eating your incredibly delicious freshly made donut, you head through the doors to the mart you get the triple whammy.

Now, before I go on, understand these things have been there for YEARS.  This isn’t some kind of accident, something to be fixedIt has become an INSTITUTION, a rite of passage for those living in this part of South Jersey. With the passage of time, future historians may think this was a design of some sort, but it just happened.

Entering in on the South side of the mart there is a clam/oyster bar, a tire store AND the public restroom which does NOT have a door.  Read that again and think about it how that all SMELLS.

Coming from outside, one is hit with all these smells, forcefully combined into something which is not for those with delicate constitutions or ladies in the family way.  Indeed, to experience it and survive builds your character and prepares you to face any smell short of a weapon of mass destruction.  I can easily remember times in my life when I was sick enough when this combination of smells would have made me thrown up.  It should be noted that added to these three pungents are the relevant cleaning chemicals (and not the expensive, nice-smelling ‘organic’ ones) which are used for their various purposes. I could imagine the Army sending its special forces troops through here (without gas masks, you grunts!) undercover for the training to help them face their perils ahead!

It literally takes your breath away, and you don’t have to inhale deeply!  I would like to point out there was a day when smoking was allowed in the mart, adding to the aroma, but that’s since been banned.  You’re still not missing anything!

Much of The Mart Inside Is Still There.

kirby_vacuumInside the mart there remains many of the vendors who have been there for decades.  That includes the half-price (2 month old issues) magazine store, the shoe repair store, the butcher (remember those?) and the candy shop.  Of note was the absence of the larger vacuum shop which always boasted a very good selection of odds and ends, and had every kind of vacuum bag for those old machines.  Bag samples were clipped to a wire strung several feet above and along the counter.

There is still the smaller vacuum shop, however.  They do repairs there, not much of a “show room”.  They did have a replacement belt for my old Electrolux.  They feature those overpriced (according to Consumer Reports) Kirby vacuum cleaners (refurbished?  I couldn’t tell.  The thought of paying $700 for a vacuum cleaner brings me into touch with my mortality.  I don’t want to live that long!).  The old store will be missed.  Also sad to see missing was the pet shop, which was always good for a gander at young kittens and puppies waiting for new homes.

This wasnt one of the pretzels.  This actually looks kind of GOOD.
This wasn't one of the pretzels. This one actually looks kind of GOOD.

The last disappointment inside was the pretzel store.  Now, it was always some kind of tradition with me to buy some pretzels, but with the onslaught of soft pretzel stores coming to the area, this old place has lost its charm as well as its quality.  First off, I was amused although slightly insulted with their pricing menu which offered one pretzel for 80 cents, three for $2.40!  What a bargain, if you’re a math idiot. Next, missing was one “charm” of the store on the side, where they used the oddest mustard dispensers I’ve ever used.  A jar of mustard hung was mounted upside down above the gizmo.  You would use a rotating crank to dispense the mustard.  This was especially tricky because as one hand would be making a circular motion with the crank, the other hand had to coordinate moving the pretzel around underneath.  A cousin of the “rub your stomach and pat your head” trick, I would imagine it would make a decent sobriety test!  These, alas, were gone.  Lastly, and this was the final “goodbye”, the pretzels weren’t that good!  They were skinny and over baked to almost being burned.  Preztel store: Your store does ONE THING people – MAKE PRETZELS.

While we only went up the East side of the mart, looking across now and then, I saw there was still the arcade, the jewelry store and the giant “sundry” store.  Alas we simply didn’t have energy to make the trek down the West side.  Maybe next time.

Outside Was The Disappointment

But my greatest disappointment was the flea market. I should say the Berlin Mart was never the best for the flea sellers, but this year reached a new low, IMO.

While ‘regular’ vendors always dominated the mart’s outside offerings, on the weekend there were always a good amount of “yard sale” type sellers. No longer. This was sad because this was our boys’ first trip to the mart, and I was hoping to find some old (not vintage, just used) toys they would like to play with.

The Various Types of Flea Market Sellers

The typical make up of the flea sellers goes something like this. There are the people selling food like soda, french fries and lemon ices.  My deepest respect goes to someone who finds themselves making money by standing up in the back of a van all day tending to a deep frier.  Nowadays, you can add to this category the new breed of people selling overpriced quickbreads like $7.00 banana breads, but none of these upstarts were at Berlin on our last trip.

Then you have the people selling discount specialty items.  Some sell nothing but sunglasses (yes, that vendor is still there!).  Years ago, another sold only refurbished electric razors (I bought one of these years ago, and it stopped recharging in about two WEEKS).

Then you have the vendors selling various new things like tube socks, deodorant that’s expired and other things which we now see in Dollar Stores.  There used to be a guy who used a tiny ladder to elevate himself, selling “Foamy, The Wonder Cleaner”.  I remember he used the same piece of 2 by 3 foot sample carpet for his entire career.  He would stain and clean this poor piece of carpet a hundred times a day.  He was NOT there.

Rusty Bike GearYou still have the RUSTY JUNK sellers who have been there for years.  I suppose that since I’ve been in business, it’s now second nature to me to ask, what’s the deal with these guys?  I mean, I understand old hub caps, but rusted out bike gears, garden saws and two inch drill bits?  Come on, NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO BUY THAT TRASH!

Then you have people selling the stuff they’ve bought at yard sales and thrift stores, and selling them here.  This was the greatest disappointment.  I understand the need to make a profit, but I’m used to these vendors having good prices.  That’s the whole point, isn’t it?  But the ‘theme’ of the experience was that everyone thought their JUNK was somehow “collectible”.

We go shopping everywhere, even at thrift stores.  In many ways shopping at thrift stores is kind of like present-day archeology.  As people, there’s the stuff we buy, the stuff we throw out, and the stuff we go to the bother selling, and then there’s the stuff that too nice to throw out, but not worth going to the bother of selling.  Clothes we’ve outgrown but not worn much fits well into this category.  The ‘target’ for us was to find toys for the boys, so basically I was looking for stuff I’ve seen in the thrift stores, but it’s as if these sellers had BOUGHT their stuff at the thrift store, came to the Berlin Mart and marked it up double and expected people to buy it!

SIMPLY, when the seller doesn’t have to pay for a ROOF, however, the BUYER expects something in the way of a better price.  Even though it’s in the package, one doesn’t expect to pay MORE for a Hot Wheels car than one can find it for in their local supermarket!  One seller wanted $2.00 for a Hot Wheels car, and these weren’t some collectible ones.  I know what a *collectible* Hot Wheels car looks like, and I know what ones they were selling in the stores last year.  Another seller wanted $1.00 per car.  Again, this is what Target charges!

Another seller had some Star Wars figures.  They were not in good condition.  The Darth Vader figure (I’m not calling it doll – no way!) looked like it had been in HUNDREDS of “battles” with the other figures.  The shiny black surfaces of his helmet and armor was worn down to a rough finish. I didn’t even bother to ask how much they expected to sell it for – $200???  I  would have taken it off his hands for $8.00, but I didn’t see that coming.

Supply and Demand.

It’s simple, people.  If you haven’t sold it, you’re asking too much.  By 3:00 PM (some people were packing up), if it hasn’t sold by THEN, no one is going to buy it.  Why not save the trouble of having to pack it, drive it back, store it, bring it back, etc., etc?  Think about it this way by asking yourself this question: is that Hot Wheels car worth $2 to YOU?  By not lowing the price and selling it, you’re really saying, to YOU, it’s worth $2.00.  Maybe you have to face up to the fact that it’s not and stop looking for that “sucker”.


Now THIS is a flea market!  Too bad nothing like this was there.
Now THIS is a flea market! Too bad there was nothing like this at the Mart.

One thing I have to note is that I would NEVER, EVER buy ANYTHING that’s remotely electronic in nature. Of course, there’s no ELECTRICITY to try anything out.  So what’s the point of all of the VCR’s, TV’s, video game consoles, let alone the VHS tapes, DVD’s, and my personal sadness: video games?

How the hell am I expected to buy a game for $20 when there’s a DAMN good chance I’ll take it home and it won’t work?  I ended passing by a LOT of video games for my various consoles, but there’s just no way I can take that kind of chance.  BEST CASE SCENARIO would be that I make it back the next week, and it’s simply too far for that.  (WORSE case is I make it back, but they’re not there the following week, or they just say that all sales of used merchandise is “as is” and they’d be RIGHT).

The years of the Internet have brought with it the decline of book and magazine sellers, along with the ability to LOOK at a record to see if was in good condition.  Used old books and magazines are practically worthless nowadays, and the for-profit sellers aren’t interested in carrying them around.


The thing that I went there for, however, was the thing that was all but absent, the lowly yard sale seller.  There WERE a FEW there, but their number has diminished greatly.  They used to almost fill the back isles of sellers.  Now, there were no more than four or five.

It was a warm day in April.  Maybe later in the season they’ll be more yard sale style sellers, however, Sunday April 5th, 2009 was pretty much full, so I don’t have my hopes up, unless they add some space, which is unlikely.

Going home, I was happy that many of the things I remembered are still there, however, it just wasn’t the same.  I guess it was better than my 2003 trip to Atlantic City, where I grew up.  In any case, I had a good walk and the boys had a good time.  If you’ve never been there, you should check it out.