Monday, June 4, 2012

How to source a Cafe Corner

Start of my modular street.
Personally, I have fallen in love with the modular building line in recent months. The amazing details and size of these these buildings make them great display pieces. Also, they are just great fun to build. They use such a wide variety of techniques that I learn something new every time I put one together.

I came late to the party though and have missed the first three in the line. Green Grocer is still affordable, but Cafe Corner and Market Street are just too expensive for an AFOL on a budget to really go after. I had initially passed up on owning them until I started reading about people having some success in sourcing the parts to put together near-accurate versions. With a price tag coming in at half the normal cost of a CC, I decided it was worth a try.

This post is meant to recap how I went about this process. It will touch on what worked and what didn't in trying to gather the pieces, along with some tips on minor changes you can make to shave down the cost.

NOTE: This recap is written from the perspective of a US buyer working with US sellers and buying primarily new parts. Your costs will likely vary, especially if you are not in the US. They could also go down a bit if you opt to go with used parts on some of the harder to find elements.

To begin, I started by going to BrickLink (BL) and adding over the parts list for the set to a CC-specific want list. I then updated the quantities to reflect what I needed for the set. Doing this allows you to do searches for sellers with a majority of the parts you need. While it can save on shipping, do watch out for prices. Sellers with a lot of parts do tend to charge slightly more for them.

About half of the bricks.
After this, I created a spreadsheet for the parts list. This was tedious, since I had to manually enter all the data, but it probably saved me hours of trying to track and count pieces as I made orders. Each part got a row, while columns were assigned for parts needed, parts remaining, along with BL and Pick-A-Brick (PAB) orders. I also made a few specialty fields for comparison purposes, such as going through the PAB site and figuring out the price to order an element directly from LEGO. Note that not all pieces are available directly from the company because they have gone out of production.

If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet, leave a comment. I'll upload it if I can figure out a way to do so.

One step I took that helped with PAB (that site can be a pain to search) was going through the PDF of the CC instructions and adding a column matching up the pieces with their element ID. PAB prices are not that cheap on most parts. Anything up to a 1x4 is usually around $0.10, while larger pieces float around $0.25. For most of those, you often can find new parts on BL for half that price or even less.

Some people have been using cost minimization tools to search for pieces on BL. It can help, but I found it just as effective to open up browser tabs for about four stores that had the most from my want list at any given time. The goal was to make as few orders as possible, since the price differences can often be just a few cents and dozens of orders negate any savings because of shipping. My general rule on non-rare pieces was to just order them from BL sellers if they were cheaper than I could get them on PAB. I did not focus too much on finding the cheapest price possible.

One mistake was not using the top rare pieces to guide my search early on. Later in the process, I created a separate want list with just these pieces. This allowed me to prioritize sellers with those items in stock. Your top rare pieces to watch for are the dark red slopes, the white panels, both of the doors, the dark blue bricks (especially the dark blue arch), the dark bley birds, the 2x3 inverted tan slopes, the black hoses, and the Type 1 black door frames (these have an extra set of holes in them). Some of these are available in decent quantities on BL, but the prices can often be very high. There are many sellers now aware of the interest in sourcing a CC and they are pricing the rare pieces to match that demand.

The arch, door frames, and birds I ended up finding on ebay. They were far cheaper than on BL and shipping was free or pretty cheap. I have searches still set up for the trans bley door and white panels, which I ended up substituting for similar pieces to help cut costs. A new copy of the door can run up to $60 on BL and the panels without side supports are almost non-existent. If resale is not your driving motivation with this project, these compromises are easy to make.

For the minifigures, I ended up parting them out and ordering the individual pieces. Complete assemblies go for about $5. I managed to put all three together from different sellers for about half that cost.

As for instructions, forget about them. The PDF versions may not be the easiest to read, but you will easily spend at least $100+ on the real thing. This was just not an option for me.

As I made orders, I added those parts to a column dedicated to the source they came from. I had a script set up in the "parts remaining" column that then automatically deducted them from the total. I then also made adjustments on my BL want lists. It's a bit labor intensive, but this will help prevent over ordering any parts.

What I'm shooting for here.
While they are not available through PAB, some parts may be available by contacting LEGO customer service by phone. The parts I highly recommend trying this on are the dark red slopes and the dark blue bricks. Have the element IDs handy for those pieces when you order, since the BL codes are not the same thing. Your results may vary with this approach, but it can save you a significant amount of money if you can get them directly from TLG.

As of now, I have all but one order paid for and either here or on its way to me. I'm excited to get everything collected and the building done, although it does not look like I'll have a chance to sit down and actually build the set until later this month.

I'll wait until I have the finished product sitting in front of me before giving a final verdict. At this time though, I'm very happy to have started this process and look forward to adding the CC to my modular shelf. Leave a comment if you have any questions.


  1. Hi, you are going to hate me for this but it will help you in the future.

    If you go to the inventory page and click on "List" instead of the default "List with images" you get this page: Now you can just copy and paste into a spreadsheet program and you have all the piece names, quantities and part numbers.

    And then also if you want to part out a set, Bricklink can do that for you if you just go to Wanted > Add Item > Part out a Set - Upload parts from a set into your wanted list. And then you can set different parameters: price, new/used, etc.

    I'm sure this helps your future endeavors and any other readers out there.

    1. I will keep that in mind for future BL projects. I'm constantly amazed at all of the features that have been built into that site.

  2. Don't know if this is still of interest, but the new Winter Village Market set has a dark blue arch in it.

    1. I noticed that as well. It should drive down the price for at least one of the rarer pieces in the set.


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