Blog Posts Tagged ‘personal finance’
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — “Just about gotten warm enough to doze, huh?” the tall, thin man asked the fellow whose height could not be determined with certainty because he was slouched in a comfy-looking, antique office chair.
“Yep,” said the sitting man, “and as few shoppers as I’ve had, I might as well doze. Or maybe close.”
Perhaps hoping he could make both of them happier, the standing man said, “Got any early Floridian, anything with citrus?”
“If I do, I don’t know of it,” responded the man in the chair.
But chances are, the situation changed shortly for both, because their conversation took place at one of the Southeast’s largest markets for collectibles and antiques.
It was during the annual, mid-February event known as a Renningers Promotions “extravaganza”. These sprawl across 117 acres of former pasture in January, February and November. More than 1,000 dealers display their merchandise on everything from commercial shelving to banana shipping cartons to blankets on the grass.
The result: If you want a sample of some consumer good that was manufactured in the past 150 years or so, you can probably find it here:
/ Fancy a shipping crate with its contents label – in German – pasted inside and containing the original enamel sterilizing dishes for medical use? There are three crates, next to the stack of unused bedpans.
/ Need a heavy copper box decorated with gobs of colored glass and stamped on the bottom “Tiffany Studios, New York, N.Y.”? The price tag says $1,200, but ask the seller. the usual gambit for bargaining: “Can you do any better on this?”
/ Wish that Grandma had saved that stack of magazines in the attic, like the one from May 1892 headlining the story behind “Boy industrialist Leland Stanford opens a new college out West?” It is in the carton just in front of the 1901 book William McKinley, Our Martyred President.
/ Want an unused wooden washboard or galvanized zinc pail? Right over there.
/ Decrepit outboard motors? Lacrosse stick? A package of 100 brochures ($60) promising “What You Should Know About George C. Wallace”?
All are here, along with arrowheads, ice cream scoops, imprinted ashtrays (“Danny’s Hideaway, Across From the Dogtrack”), other people’s wedding photos and baby photos — even funeral photos.
Concerned that your supply of Smurf drinking glasses is low? Here’s a set of six for $21.
If you agree that FDR was the Man of the Hour, you’ll want to make an offer on the foot-tall electric mantle clock that bears that legend beneath a sculpture of the (standing) president grasping a ship’s wheel.
“Is that harpoon real? How-much-is-it-where’d-you-get-it?”
“Well, the metal tip is real, but we made up the shaft and attached new rope to it. These came from Nova Scotia, off old whaling ships, ’cause you can’t whale no more.”
The extravaganzas – that’s the official name – are operated by Renningers Promotions, long-established in this collectibles/antiques/flea market niche. The company also stages major events in Pennsylvania, in Kutztown, King of Prussia and Adamstown.
On the hilly land just outside Mount Dora, about 40 minutes north of Orlando, the company rents enclosed, air-conditioned space year-round to about 200 dealers of pricier items. Every weekend, even more dealers set up their wares for a flea market/farmers market.
And every third weekend, about 400 vendors come to Renningers’ pasture for an “antiques fair’’, held under covered pavilions and spilling onto the grounds.
But it is the extravaganzas that make visiting an experience.
If you come looking for something specific — antique toys, fancy dinnerware, militaria, lapel pins from the former USSR – it takes stamina, just to walk up and down all the aisles, up and down all the hills.
If you are a comparison shopper, you would need to draw yourself a map — none are handed out at the site — to help you return to favored booths.
For serious shoppers, Renningers sells three-day passes; otherwise, you can buy admission for any single day. Tickets are cheapest on Sunday, when some stuff is gone, some vendors pack up early to move on.
While many sellers are amateurs, maybe staging an estate sale, an untold number of shoppers and vendors are professional dealers. Many come south in the winter for the numerous weekend markets and evening auctions. Then the pros head back north, to set up booths there.
Overheard, a conversation between two vendors:
“I don’t know what it is all of a sudden with champagne (ice) buckets, but last fall I was buying them as fast as I could. I was selling them for $50, and I made $5,000.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: Renninger Promotions’ Florida site is on U.S. 441 just east of Mount Dora and north of State Road 46, about 30 miles north of Orlando. There is an exit for 441/92/17 on Interstate 4 in Orlando.
CRUISING IN THE GULF OF MEXICO – So let me get this straight: I booked my trip on Holland America’s Ryndam 11 weeks before sailing, reserving a deluxe Verandah suite for myself and my wife, and we paid about $1,650.
But the last afternoon of my recent three-day cruise, all the glow left my Happy Hour time when Don and Jean, sitting near me in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, told me they booked four days before we left port, and they paid $198, plus taxes, for the same trip.
Who do Don and Jean know?
It’s not who, but how, really.
Don, a retired school administrator, explained that he and his wife, both retired, had been on 18 cruises in the past three years and only once had they paid more than $50 a person per day. The Rydnam trip came out to $33 per day.
Because they love to cruise, they pursue the bargains: They sign up with various cruise lines and search engines to be notified by e-mail of bargains.
“You could spend all day just deleting the e-mails,’’ said Jean, with a laugh. But clearly that exercise in waste disposal is an easy trade-off to let them enjoy their pastime.
How can the cruise lines make money selling cabin space (and with it, three meals a day, nightly entertainment with up to 14 singers and dancers onstage, free cooking and computer demonstrations, 24-hour pizza, and much more) for so little?
The truth is, there’s no profit at that rate, but it does tend to buy the loyalty of the passengers, convincing them to spend more for passage the next time they want to cruise.
And like an airplane heading down the runway with empty seats, empty cabins on the ship leaving port mean lost revenue. At least the $33 a day is some money in the till.
What Don and Jean got was an inside cabin — one with no window on the world. But as they told me, they have been upgraded to better staterooms many times, including the beloved verandah cabins – those with their own balcony.
And as all real cruisers know, the cabin is mainly for sleeping and changing clothes. You can pay for more space, better amenities, fresh flowers daily, trays of hors d’ouvers, a whirlpool tub instead of a tiny shower stall, free dry cleaning and shoe shining, preferential dining room reservations, even butler service, but you will be paying considerably more.
Um, as I did, because my wife enjoys the good things in life.
Of course, to take advantage of the cheap fares, you need flexibility in your life – you can’t decide to suddenly go on a cruise and just walk away from your work cubicle. Remember: Don and Jean are retired.
But if you have the freedom to get up and go, figure out which cruise lines offer the experiences you most enjoy, then go to their web sites and sign up to be notified of their specials. Sign up, too, on search engines such as Kayak and specialty sites such as AOL’s CruiseCritic, to get those last-minute sailing discounts.
And keep that roll-aboard nearby.
Going through the mail recently, an envelope caused me anxiety. The outside merely carried the logo and some ad copy for AT&T, but that’s now a name that grabs my attention, and not in a good way.
The telecommunications giant did nothing to harm me. On the contrary, both of us were victims of what a detective told me is America’s fastest-growing crime: identity theft.
I became aware of my involvement when I got a phone call in early November from the bank that had issued my MasterCard. The bank staffer identified herself as being with its security department and asked, “Mr. Jenkins, did you try to purchase $560 worth of men’s clothing today in Cape Town, South Africa?’
I almost laughed at the notion that I had simultaneously been in Florida, where the bank was calling me, and 7,850 miles away in Cape Town. But I was intrigued.
“This purchase was not approved because it did not match your buying history,’’ the employee continued.
I felt relief, until she added, “Though a card was swiped.’’
Yikes! My own card was in my wallet. So the bank created a new account number for me, and I cut up my old card.
In mid-December, I found in my mail three identical envelopes splashed with orange ink announcing, “Welcome to AT&T!’’
Silly of them to send me identical promotions, I thought. Then I opened them and saw that three new wireless lines had been opened in my name and address; these were estimated first bills, for phone service and two BlackBerry accounts.
The total I apparently would owe: $563.66.
I saw all three lines had been opened the same day – when I had been on a cruise ship off Mexico. I climbed a fairly easy phone tree for AT&T customer service and got a fraud department representative.
He believed my protest and soon gave me the name of a Texas company, Let’s Talk, that had taken the order and express-shipped the devices. He said he would start a fraud investigation.
I called Let’s Talk. This customer service agent seemed bewildered that someone had used my credit card to get BlackBerrys and a cellphone shipped – not to my home address but to one more than 200 miles away. She, too, promised to open an investigation.
Then came the worst surprise: A bill from for $852.79, from an online bank, BillMeLater. After a few phone calls I learned it had approved that amount to be paid to Apple’s online store for three iPods. An Apple rep told me these also were shipped to an address more than 200 miles from the address the buyer had given as the billing address. But to confirm his identity, this thief had provided my DOB and Social Security number.
I called my police department in early January, providing details of these events to Det. Randy Adams. It was she who told me identity theft is the nation’s fastest-growing crime.
But how did the thieves get my confidential data? The simplest way, Adams explained, was to bribe restaurant waiters to carry a small electronic reader; when you give your credit card to pay a check, the waiter also slides the card through this reader. That magnetic strip on the back of the card includes much of your data, which is then stored in the reader.
The ID thief shows up, downloads the chip’s memory and pays the waiter. The thieves have card-makers and also sell information to colleagues. A Wall Street Journal article recently reported security exports believe the U.S. has more than 300 professional computer-hacking rings stealing identity information, but that Chinese hackers are hurrying to catch up.
Ultimately I spoke with a detective in the town where the BlackBerrys were delivered. She explained that thieves locate vacant residences – typically foreclosed properties – and order the merchandise be delivered there.
Monitoring the shipper’s online tracking number, the thief sees his package has been picked up locally. He drives to that location, waits for the delivery truck, then intercepts the driver for the package without having to open the front door.
As the truck drives off, so does the thief.
This detective said the Blackberrys had been delivered to a foreclosed-on, vacant, house.
And she echoed what my local detective had told me: “I don’t hold out the promise that anyone will be caught – they grab the stuff and re-sell, sometimes at flea markets, sometimes on eBay.’’
I have also filed a fraud claim with the FTC and notified the three national credit bureaus, which will monitor suspicious charges and alert merchants, for up to 7 1/2 years.
As for that recent envelope from AT&T? It said the previous balance I owed was $563.66 – the original total for the three fraudulent lines – and that “adjustments to the previous balance’’ meant I owed nothing.
But now I hesitate to dump my cellphone, with service by another provider, to get an IPhone. I fear I’ll have to climb more phone trees again to explain that yes, it really is ME who wants the iPhone.