Value in eye of beholder when touring garage sales

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

At 8:59 a.m. Terri Congdon stepped out of her Soldotna home and dragged to the end of her driveway a sign she'd made that read "Garage Sale" in large fluorescent letters

She had posted ads in the newspaper and had other equally eye-catching signs posted on corners throughout the neighborhood, but would it be enough to bring people to her home to pick through the carefully arranged clothing, dish ware, picture frames, boxes of books and numerous other items for sale?

By 9 a.m. one minute later Congdon had her answer. Almost on cue, five carloads of people pulled up and began perusing. Mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, solitary individuals it was a mixed assortment of the community that had come to shop.

"There's something about garage sales that gets people up and moving early," Congdon said.

Her words ring truth. Anyone who has ever doubted the axiom that "one person's trash is another person's treasure" need only visit one of the numerous homespun bartering affairs listed in the classified ads each weekend to have the validity of this statement proven to them.

Garage sales are an American pastime, and those who attend them are a unique facet of what is at times a strange subculture.


Never won a beauty contest trophy? Buy one at a garage sale.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Some are diehard rummagers who plan out their weekend with an almost fanatical zeal, plotting out starting times on a grid and cross referencing that to a map of the city to determine the quickest route between two garage sales.

Others come looking to live the dream of getting rich quick by finding the bargain of a lifetime.

Perhaps it will come in the form of a rocking chair the $2 price tag hanging from it deceiving those not aware it's an antique from the turn of the last century.

Maybe a dusty, old painting in the corner will turn out to be a priceless Picasso.

And who knows, any given Saturday could be the day that the rarest of the rare items an original Star Wars action figure shows up still in the package in mint condition with only a 50 cent sticker on it.

Congdon said garage sales can occasionally bring in a few pros.

"We call them dealers. You can tell who they are by how they look at things collectibles, antiques and vintage items mostly. They're looking for things they can turn around and sell for a lot more at an outlet or on E-bay," she said.

However, these people are few and far between, she said. For most people, garage sales are just a fun weekend ritual.

"I go every weekend," said Cathy Henry while sorting through some of Congdon's belongings. "It's a hobby for me. I like finding old things. Most of my house is furnished in garage sale items."

While going garage sale shopping is a hobby for some like Henry, other people find the weekend events to be social times when they can share news and chit-chat with other shoppers.

"We look forward to spring because of (garage sales). A lot of times you'll bump into friends you haven't seen all winter, and can catch up on things," said Shirlene Easling of Nikiski while attending a garage sale in Kenai.

Easling added that as much as she likes talking to those she knows, she likes to take part in the silver-tongued art of bartering even more .

"I like haggling," Easling said. "Bartering is fun and I think for some people having the sale, it's as fun to barter as it is for us."


Garage sale signs sprout like fresh grass each spring.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Some people will deliberately mark things slightly high in order to evoke this dialogue, but this isn't always the case, according to Easling.

"Other times, people may not know what something is worth so they overprice it and you offer what you think it's worth," she said.

Although garage sales may serve as a different outlet for different people, most agree that the joy of pinching pennies is a universal.

"That's why I go. I go to find good bargains," said Billie Warren of Kenai. "You can save a lot. I'll buy books for my grand kids for 10 cents, 50 cents or $1 and they are books that sell in the store for $3."

She left the Kenai garage sale happy knowing she had saved a bundle on the stuffed animals, candles, a fish bowl and other items she purchased after briefly poking in before heading off to another sale across town.

Despite how many reasons there are to go to garage sales, most people don't host them as a selfless good dead to other shoppers.

For some, the impetus to hold a garage sale may come from all the "skinny clothes" taunting them from the closet. Others may decide they really only need one broken crock pot. Many others may simply want to scale down their goods before a move whether it be across town or to the Lower 48.

For Terri Congdon, her reasons were two-fold.

"I have a problem throwing good stuff away, so with garage sales you can recycle old stuff you don't use anymore to people that will use it," she said. "And of course, you can make a few dollars for yourself in the process."

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