Secrets of a Thrift Store Technology Picker

A Salvation Army Thrift Store in Toronto is a popular spot for a technology picker.
A Salvation Army Thrift Store in Toronto

Frugal moms, eBay entrepreneurs and other savvy shoppers would love to know how technology pickers make money buying and selling hardware and computer components in Toronto area thrift stores. Instead of hunting rare books, exotic fashions and other cool kitsch, they buy boring stuff like battery chargers, and obsolete device connectors. They have an entirely different set of rules for finding profit, so if you’re interested, read further where I’ll share with you some of their biggest secrets.

The charity thrift store model essentially resells donations from the public. The Salvation Army and Value Village are the biggest thrift store chains in Toronto, but there are many smaller shops. These stores are not charities; they’re for-profit businesses that often donate a portion of the proceeds to charity.

A Salvation Army Thrift Store in Toronto is a popular spot for a technology picker.
A Salvation Army Thrift Store in Toronto

Savvy tech pickers can profit by finding valuable materials displayed in plain sight, and make smart purchases passed over by hundreds of other people.

Tech pickers don’t buy Snoopy mugs or exotic chocolate molds – being a technology picker is a different game. Only us older geeks have enough smarts to spot serious profits on the shelves and that’s because we can 1) identify saleable items, rare connectors and much coveted devices, and 2) we know where and how to sell these items to get the best return. Here are a few recent purchases and flips I’ve made.

First a cautionary tale: Look on the lower shelf, halfway between toys and toiletry, and garage and lawn tools, and you’ll see an older model Nortel Vista 350 home phone.

Bell phone on shelf at thrift store
Bell phone on shelf at thrift store

This phone is junk (hence the ‘caution’), but old phones in general are good buys. Standard Telecom buys and sells office phone networks and experienced technology pickers know they covet the Nortel 9417CW, in good condition for $25. That’s because unlike the Vista, the 9417CW is a top quality, two-line phone that’s a perfect office-phone for someone starting a business. It has all the popular features like Caller ID, speakerphone / conferencing, message indicator, and the good news for tech pickers is that the Nortel 9417CW is one of the most popular models ever made, and Toronto area thrift stores sell them for five to ten dollars each.

When buying phones, especially used cellphones, experienced pickers can unload their purchases on local mobile technology discussion forums like Howard Forums here in Canada. This was once a grand place to buy and sell rare items picked up in the real world; however, in recent times the forum page seems to have digressed (or perhaps evolved) into a phone-code trading station for the PIN code numbers used to unlock mobile devices.

Use the ‘Wanted’ Marketplace Demands on Kijiji to Make Daily (or Hourly) Shopping Lists

If the idea of shopping for a living really appeals to you, and you live near thrift stores, you could bookmark the Wanted section of Kijiji, and the equivalent page on Craigslist, and a half dozen smaller ‘swap and shop’ type sites and check the lists once or twice a day. Desperate people on these pages are always looking to replace proprietary phone chargers, battery backs and power adapters etc. They don’t want to wait for an Amazon or eBay to ship – you can offer instant gratification and profit by being a tech-picker-on-demand.

To Get Rid of Fun Stickers and Non-Product Labels

Sometimes tech gadgets are covered with fun third party stickers, and this is especially true of anything used by students including TV monitors, speakers, cell phones and laptop computers. It goes without saying that such hardware always appears more desirable online if it looks factory fresh. Tech pickers all have different solutions for different labels and you can get insights into the composition and properties of sticker adhesives used in Canada on Lorpon Labels Adhesives cheat Sheet. Most Toronto thrift stores use labels with the absolute stickiest glue to deter label swapping, The resin can actually damage items if removed incorrectly, or if applied directly onto the surface of LCD screens or some electrical components.

A2ZPC computer repair store in Toronto buys and sells computer chips. A computer chip is a set of micro-miniaturized, electronic circuits fabricated on a single piece of semiconducting material. It’s also known as a CPU, integrated circuit, IC, microcircuit, microchip, processor, microprocessor, or silicon chip. The stickers shown here have low adhesive properties so the glue doesn’t corrode the connectors.

USB 2.0 Adapter
USB 2.0 Adapter

There are between six and nine dollars’ worth of rare earth metals (including gold) in a desktop computer, and even more in a laptop computer.

Broken computers and laptops are not ‘junk’ until they have been stripped of the chips and capacitors. When stripping computers, search for monolithic capacitors, rhodium and Tantalum capacitors. It’s common for these chips to have silver conductors, but more importantly, the rare earth metals inside these cylindrical components are worth more than gold. Do not open them up to look, as they are toxic and worse, the metal will oxidize quickly and be worth less money.

Old Polaroid cameras are almost always worth the asking price if they still work. See here this definitive article on buying selling Polaroid cameras by Dan Finnen shows this camera and how to appraise its value with links to (his) Polaroid camera section on eBay.

Polaroid cameras that still work retain their value and are popular items for a technology picker
Polaroid cameras that still work retain their value.

Lastly – Be creative and recognize small parts for future projects

A set of gurney table wheels for $9.99 and a metal handle will turn a sturdy wooden box into a handy firewood wagon, perfect for somebody’s cottage and worth a few hundred dollars.

These wheels cost $10 at a Toronto thrift store
These wheels cost $10 at a Toronto thrift store



  1. I am a thrift store shopper , but I tend to buy that snoopy mug instead of making wise purchases . Very informative article.

  2. Great post. I LOVE thrift shopping and look forward to my weekly trips to the thrift stores. I had no idea that Kijihi had a second for wanted items. This is something I would love to make some money on. This could be fun!

  3. Thanks, great tips, I regularly visit thrift shops but don’t look at any of these items. Think I’ll visit that section next trip.

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