Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting has inspired an underground economy

Warren would approve.
Warren would approve.
Image: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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There are a few ways to get into Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting, which takes place this year on May 4 in Omaha.

You can purchase at least one share of Berkshire Hathaway stock, which (as of May 3) runs $328,200 for a Class A share and $215.93 for the more affordable Class B option. Or, you can hop onto a site like Craigslist or eBay and nab a spare shareholder pass for about $10 a pop.

Berkshire takes a lax approach to meeting access. Every shareholder gets four passes, with no explicit stipulations on transferability or resale. There’s no barcode; it’s just a laminated card on a lanyard. The pass is required to enter the hours-long Q&A session with Berkshire chairman Warren Buffett and vice chairman Charlie Munger. It’s also needed to get into any of the shops offering sizable shareholder discounts. Apart from a walk through the metal detector at CHI Health Center arena, the meeting’s venue, there are no other scans or ID checks.

The growing popularity of the weekend festival known as “Woodstock for Capitalists” has, appropriately, spawned a secondary market of services to help people get in. Dozens of listings for shareholder passes for this year’s meeting have popped up online in the last few weeks, ranging from $5 to $25 each. A shareholder named Jason offering passes on Craigslist tells Quartz that demand was much better prior to the 2010 creation of relatively affordable Class B shares, but still good enough that going to the secondary market was worth a shot.

The purchase of a pass is a worthy investment for Buffett fans, but also for discount-minded shoppers.

Locals line up hours in advance for entry to the marketplace in CHI Health Center, which houses pop-up shops with deeply discounted merchandise from Berkshire-owned companies. Some families buy an entire year’s supply of underwear at the Fruit of the Loom kiosk, which is so popular it’s guarded with ear-pieced bouncers and a velvet rope managing a line dozens long. Others furnish their homes with discounted finds from Berkshire’s Omaha-based Nebraska Furniture Mart chain (sample discount: a $679.99 leather La-Z-Boy recliner marked down to $563.59). The latter doesn’t even require a trip to Omaha: the discount is valid at all four of the chain’s stores, including the branches in Kansas, Iowa, and Texas (most online pass sellers offer a shipping option to out-of-town customers).

Those interested in the meeting itself can also hire out the onerous process of lining up in the pre-dawn darkness to score a seat on the floor. Given that Omaha is still not among the 42 US metro areas covered by TaskRabbit or other line-sitting apps, local resident Darren Hromadka launched InLine4You just before last year’s event. He said he attracted a few dozen bookings this year and last. Freelance line sitters also are advertise themselves directly on Craigslist.

Hiring a line sitter may sound like an extravagance next to the famously simple tastes of Berkshire’s chairman. But Buffett himself has given the idea his blessing. Paying someone to stand in line, he told the Wall Street Journal in 2017, is “probably what I would do.”