When Thomaston resident BJ Chamberlain went to pick up dinner from the local pizza joint this summer, his kids were always scrambling to get quarters out of their piggy bank to tag along and claim whatever tiny trinkets awaited them in the restaurant’s vending machines.
This excitement got him thinking: what went into setting up a vending machine and what types of creative products could be put in them?
Turns out, he’s not alone in the idea.
Across the U.S. in recent years ― in places like Oregon, Michigan and Florida ― people have been buying used vending machines and filling them with an assortment of unique goods from vintage toys to local art. The repurposed machines are then set up in brick-and-mortar businesses where the public can peruse the offerings and purchase items from them.
The concept was right up Chamberlain’s alley. After buying a used vending machine on Facebook Marketplace in August, he launched the first iteration of what he’s calling The Goblin Market at Rock City Cafe in Rockland last month. The endeavor is still in its very early stages, but Chamberlain hopes to establish more than just one of these offbeat vending machines in the Rockland area.
“For me it’s kind of like a whole bunch of things that I love all smashed together. I love random weird crap, I love thrift stores and flea markets, I love convenience stores, I love coin operated things like arcade machines, I mean, who doesn’t? And I like to work with local artists and local musicians as much as I can,” Chamberlain said. “I like to put things in front of people.”
A few of the items you can currently find in the sole Goblin Market machine include: tarot cards, a “party kit” featuring heart-shaped glasses and a colorful wig, Pop Rocks, a product that changes the color of flames in a fire and several booklets, including one on lessons for employee-owned cooperatives.
Next week, Chamberlain will be adding edible crickets from a Lewiston-based company to the machine, a product he’s particularly excited about.
The first batch of items in the Goblin Market was largely wholesale products he could get a certain quantity of, just to get the machine going. But he looks forward to partnering with local artists and makers to get their artwork and wares in the machine, as well as the CDs or cassettes from local musicians.
“I’m trying to go [for] like a punk rock flea market in a box,” Chamberlain said.
In addition to the vending machine, Chamberlain said he also is working on a couple of smaller machines, including a push and pull style one, which would typically dispense stickers or temporary tattoos.
A creative art vending project was launched in Portland using these types of push and pull machines several years ago, though it is not clear if the project is still ongoing based on its social media pages.
“Out of that kind of machine I can do vintage trading cards, seed packets, anything flat,” Chamberlain said. “I can do Pokemon cards if somebody wants me to.”
Setting up the first machine in Rock City Cafe made sense because Chamberlain is a part of the employee cooperative that owns Rock City Coffee.
Chamberlain said he is currently trying to get an idea of how much revenue the single machine could bring in before expanding to a second full vending machine. But he said down the road he could envision operating several large machines, and maybe one day, opening an arcade in Rockland.
“My short term goal is just to shake things up. I think there’s a lot of market for edgier, more punk rock kind of stuff and there aren’t a lot of places to get that around here,” he said.