The South Side shopping staple has always been the Swap-O-Rama. Where else can a shopper buy dog food, a wedding dress, get family photos and a haircut all for a killer price? I grew up going to the Swap as it is so affectionately called by many a Southsider. As a kid, I got school shoes, winter coats and school supplies there. As an adult, I got a tattoo (don't ask), household cleaners, diapers and tires. I have 30 years of Swap shopping under my belt so you could say I am the go-to expert on these things. I see you are itching to go..but slow down. Before you take the plunge deep into the realm of bargain shopping, you need to be prepared. I've decided to take you under my wing to give you the low-down on surviving this task of bargain hunting. This is an exclusive list!
11. Parking is a BEAST!
Get there early if you want to get a primo parking spot. Creating a parking spot is not permitted. The owners of this place will have you towed quicker than the blink of an eye. Imagine coming outside with bags full of deals trying to remember where you parked. After a few thousand attempts at hitting your alarm to see if your car chirps back, you realize that you will be at the bus stop heading to Rokaitis to free your car from car jail. Avoid the embarrassment and the $175 fee by parking in the lines and in a valid parking spot. To drive the point home, I saw a Camry being towed with the driver inside..can they do that legally? I don't know and I don't want to find out. Neither should you.
10. Ladies (and some guys)! Leave the big, clunky purses and bags at home.
Creeps are always snatching wallets and cell phones from unsuspecting shoppers. There are thousands of people in the Swap at any given time. Imagine that you'll push past a good two hundred of these thousand during your trip. Know that there is going to be a lot of touching (maybe some grunting) going on. Whether you like it or not, you'll never be able to tell if you're getting fondled or fleeced. The admission is $2 so have that money in hand when you get to the entrance.
9. PLEASE, PLEASE, use proper walking etiquette.
You are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about. Here's the deal: There is an invisible line down the middle of any walkway. People going in one direction are (or should be) uniformly walking on one side while others going in the opposite direction are doing the same. Don't be the moron walking against the people traffic. Don't stop suddenly and expect the hundreds of people behind you to know you are about to stop. You will get bloody heels and death stares which are all well deserved. Do the flawless side step and then stop. If that's hard, just know that you should walk at the Swap-O-Rama like you would drive a car. If you can't walk at the Swap-O-Rama, then don't drive...EVER.
8. Knock it off with the knock-offs!
Some vendors sell knock-offs and assume and hope you don't know that they aren't the real thing. It's alright to let them know that paying $300 for a fake Louis Vuitton bag is like getting a bad and expensive tattoo: You wasted money and now you're too embarrassed to show anyone and you can't get rid of it. Stay away from the illegal stuff!
7. NEVER buy electronics without trying them out first.
The reason we feel comfortable buying stuff like this from Best Buy, Amazon, and others is because there is a clearly defined return policy. At the Swap, you are rolling the dice and could end up with a box of rocks, LITERALLY. I have actually seen people trying to return Macbook boxes with rocks in them. My advice? Ask to plug things in and test them. If the sellers say, "No Way!" Then, do not pay! It rhymes, I know.
6. DO NOT BUY PETS, DAMMIT!
At first, I figured the statement above didn't need my summary here but for those who don't believe that fire is hot until they get burned (or fat meat ain't greasy, like mom says), this is for you: We all know that it is effed up that people are allowed to have makeshift pet shops in the Swap. It is doubly bad that people actually buy puppies, kittens and birds from these "shops". I am certain that there is no paperwork and who knows what diseases these animals have. Furthermore, that Miniature Pinscher you thought you were buying turned out to be a Doberman and you are reading this from a locked closet while "Trixie" eats your leather couch cushions. I want YOU to help YOURSELF! NO PETS DAMMIT!
5. Try on clothes:
Yes, in the Swap, you need to try on items that you can't return. Some vendors will let you use a small closet or even trust you to go to the washroom nearby to try on their clothes. My rule of thumb is that you wear something that you can easily pull clothes over and still get an idea of the fit. Otherwise, you will have to stuff your muffin top into a pair of jeans that never fit from day one all because they "looked" like they fit at the Swap. The mannequins with the video vixen asses make it even harder to imagine yourself fitting into the pair of jeans its wearing. TRY IT ON!
4. Buying Jewelry is okay.
It is..only if you know your stuff. There are some legit jewelers in the Swap with great prices on real pieces but there are quite a few hustlers too and if you can't tell the difference between 14-carat gold and something gold-colored then walk away! I don't want to see that your neck has turned green due to an allergic reaction to failure and cheap chains. Green gravel neck is hard to explain.
3. Go Early!
The best vendors start shutting down their tables at 3:00 pm. Be there before noon and get the best deals. I snagged a pair of authentic Ray-Ban sunglasses with the case in great condition for $20. The second pair I tried to go back for later in the day were gone. I'm still pissed 3 months later. Don't let it happen to you.
2. Go to the ATM before arriving at the Swap!
Avoid excessive fees and long lines by hitting your bank up before getting there. Many of the vendors are cash-only so it helps to have it handy. Don't be THAT guy or girl who snags a crazy deal but has to run to the ATM to get cash. The vendor may let the person who has money buy that one of a kind item you wanted before you get back AND you have let those creeps who are lurking about see you pull out cash. Now, those potential robbers know you are loaded!
#1. Haggle, Haggle, Haggle!
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is negotiable. I don't care if it has a price tag, always try to get a deal. You'll be surprised at the amount of money you'll save just by changing your facial expressions and saying.."Well...I would buy it...but..."
You will now survive a trip to the Swap-O-Rama like a champ. Now, conquer (and look out for that damn pair of Ray-Bans for me).
Check out the South Side area Swaps located at 4200 S. Ashland Ave. Chicago, IL and 127th & Kostner St. Alsip, IL.