Hamfests AKA Electronics Flea Markets seem to be dying out, but when you can find them, they are excellent sources for odds and ends to fill your parts bins at home.
I tell friends you can see state of the art equipment at them, just pick the era they were state of the art.
Two schools of thought on attending hamfests, go early to find the one of a kind items (you can never depend on what will be available) and go late to get the best deals as prices drop to move product. There is a third, where you pick through the dumpsters because some people will be bringing equipment to sell and if it doesn't, instead of bringing it home again, they'll throw it in the trash.
Another tip is to walk the entire site first to see what is available and what prices are. Not all will be selling for the same price, and then go back to the vendors with the best prices.
Don't be afraid to haggle.
Personal story, one hamfest I attended had computer controllable laserdisc players pulled from arcade machines. Several vendors had them stacked to the ceiling and at the time, asking for $150 to $200 each. At the end of the show I was walking out and stopped to look at one that included the programmer's manuals. They had not been selling, so the vendor asked me to make an offer, I opened my wallet and said I had $45 left, the vendor yelled, "SOLD!" and I walked out with one. They were never seen again, so I was very happy I had picked one up. I still have it and have written programs to control it, even though I ended spending $80 for my first laserdisc to verify that it worked. The vendor said it would play CAV laserdiscs, but was unsure if it would play CLV. CAV allowed single stepping, but most discs were CLV - long playing. After finding a CAV copy of Bladerunner and it worked, I bought CLVs of other movies and found it worked as well. One of the best deals I've made.
Hamfests AKA Electronics Flea Markets seem to be dying out
For one thing there are fewer hobbiests building their own stuff. Having said that, there's a humongous Hamfest here in Huntsville in the summer -- I went for the firest time last year and I was blown away by the size of the thing -- also I picked up lots of cool antique analog meters -- I'll be going back again this summer for sure!!!
I'll go along with Max that there are fewer tinkerers. I go for computer hardware along with odds and ends like sheets of rubber feet.
Computer stores used to be rare and far between and concentrated on complete systems, but nowadays you can go to Best Buy, Office Max, Staples, etc., and pick up hard drives, network cards, RAM, etc. Micro Age and Fry's sell cabinets and motherboards. And NewEgg and Tiger Direct for online orders at good prices.
The weekend sellers at the hamfests could not compete nor keep up on changing stock.
I was at Micro Center yesterday. They have a whole section of parts: memory, P/S, I/O cards, motherboards, etc. Prices are a little high compared to Newegg or Amazon but I wanted a localstore incase of having to return the router I bought yesterday. Micro Center is about a mile from MIT.
IMO, things such as this are dying out for a variety of reasons, and there is no single cause. One of the reasons is our own "success" at making electronics so small and dense that you can't do anything else with the parts, assumoing you can even get at them.
I think the golden age of flea markets was in the era of discrete transistor and small-scale ICs (DIP), when you could build circuits on perfboard or similar, and poke, probe, change components, and "mess around".
Now the best thing to look for when at flea markets are power supplies, and also electromechanical components such as connectors, or motors for robotics.
a lot of my chips, ECL's and some CMOS has gold bonding wire, and 80 20 gold / tin, paste, and the gold plated circuit boards, are now profitable to refine. So my junk pile is a gold mine. but some of you all, knew that . Cheers hunters of good electronic scrap. never enough 1 percent resistors, or 50 MFD's at 16 V. in hand.
This MIT flea market looks like a candy store for techies. I hope that the local kids who are learning and developing electronics know about it (and wish it had existed when I was a kid building circuits in Boston a long time ago).
There are at least two CA Flea markets that are also worth mentioning.
For Silicon Valley there was the Foothill College Flea Market anchored by the then Electronics Museum located on the same campus. Due to circumstances forcing the Museum off the campus (a long story in itself) the event moved through a few locals to now reside at DeAnza College. The web bage is: http://www.electronicsfleamarket.com
The other BIG event that I'm familiar with (also an institution) is the TRW Swap Meet. The web page for that is http://www.w6trw.com/swapmeet/ and is sponsored by the W6TRW club.