As I approached the small town of Terre Hill, I reduced the gearing on my bike and cranked up the steep grade on route 897. I thought the most notable part of the ride through town would be summiting the climb that begins at Terre Hill Concrete and ends at Main Street. I realized I was wrong when I rounded the bend in the hill and saw a woman leave her parked SUV in the middle of the road and dash across to the other side, cash in hand. It was community yard sale day. Terre Hill is a tiny little Pennsylvania town surrounded by Amish country. It has a diner, a bank, and a post office and, aside from the manufacturer of concrete products, not much else including (usually) traffic. Normally the ride down main street is interrupted only by the occasional horse and buggy or a local driver who passes with a smile and a wave. But on community yard sale day watch out!
This warning is not specific to Terre Hill. The most terrifying thing I see on my bike, or while running, or even in my car is Yard Sale People. Yard Sale People (or YSP) are a different breed. You can find them scouring the local Penny Pincher on Friday night looking for yard and garage sale ads. They can be seen skulking through neighborhoods, driving slowly, hoping to be the first one at a sale to not miss out on a lawnmower, fishing gear, or the queen mother of all yard sale prizes: children’s toys and games. God help you if you get between a yard sale shopping soccer mom and a box of Legos.
YSP seem to come in at least a couple varieties. One of the more common is the aforementioned soccer mom. These frugal ladies are out there for good reason. With a crop of children at home (possibly tagging along for sizing purposes) they are out there to scoop up the slightly used accoutrements of childhood. Children grow out of clothes seemingly in hours, and tire of games, and books in weeks. Why spend hundreds of dollars buying new when the same slightly-used items slightly used can be had for pennies at a yard sale? Who can blame them for running over that elderly lady walking her dog when there is a great pair of Osh Kosh B’Gosh hanging on a peg in a front yard? That old lady was probably almost dead anyway. (Estate sale anyone?)
The next variety of YSP is the backyard mechanic. He, and this is almost always a he, is the first guy at the yard sale probably arriving before it even opens, often to the annoyance of the host. He works efficiently scanning, watching, waiting to see if anything with a motor is offered up for sale. Any lawnmowers? Weed whackers? Chain saws? That Buick in the driveway with the little-old-lady-sized dent in the front? The mechanic will pay handsomely if he finds what he wants. He goes as quickly as he arrives. His morning is over early on Saturday since the stuff he searches for goes quickly.
Another variety of YSP is the eBayers. eBayers are a shrewd lot. They seek out things they can turn around for a profit by putting more work into it than the yard sale host was willing to do. Indeed, this can be a lucrative endeavor for those with the time and interest to research what does and doesn’t move in the world’s biggest auction. The eBayer can be identified at almost any time throughout the year. The most common telltale sign is that they drive some sort of station wagon circa 1992 and the back seat to the hatch is filled with yet-to-be sorted booty from sales throughout the year. The eBayer never travels by highway but always back roads hoping to spot not only yard sales but things set out for free by those wishing to declutter. Also, there is slim chance that 1992 station wagon full of crap can attain a safe highway speed. At a sale, the eBayer is a shrewd negotiator working to make every penny.
eBayer: “How much for the VCR?”
Host: “10 bucks.”
eBayer: “Does it work?”
Host: “Last I knew. I haven’t used it since 2005.”
eBayer: “Can you hook it up and play a tape so I know?”
Host: “I don’t have any tapes anymore.”
eBayer (hissing through his teeth): “Would you take 5 bucks?”
Host: “Sure. I just want it gone.”
At this point, the eBayer unzips a well-worn fanny pack full of cash, extracts a $5.00 bill and beats feet with his prize. The VCR finds it’s way to a shelf marked “electronics” in the back of a garage filled with hard-bargained yard sale purchases.
Another form of YSP is the recreational shopper. These are usually the folks cruising in a BMW sedan or SUV, Starbucks in hand simply out to peruse other people’s junk for fun. Whether or not they score a bargain is secondary to the experience. These shoppers show up after the mechanics and eBayers thinking they have arrived “early” to the sale when they show up at 8:00a.m. In the wild they would be like a Magpie showing up at a kill after the other scavengers have picked it clean. They search for the tiny morsels others may have missed. Aside from a bone fragment or in the case of a yard sale an old, faded flower vase, there is really nothing left.
We had a yard sale once. It was a long time ago. It took us approximately 750 hours to set up for it including hauling every bit of junk out of the attic, closets, garage, and shed. We borrowed and hauled tables, bought price stickers, went to the bank for change, and took out advertisements in the local paper. For you kids, this was before the internet got big. We then spent a hectic morning bargaining with mechanics, eBayers, soccer moms, and recreational shoppers. When we were done, we still had almost as much junk as when we started and netted all of $100.00. It didn’t help that my wife priced everything as if it were worn by George Washington or recovered from the Titanic. Everything I priced was priced to sell and almost all of it did. When it was clear business was winding down I was all but giving stuff away and turning my back if someone was going after a five finger discount. Meanwhile my wife operated as if we were clerks at Tiffany and Co.
Wife: “Pete, watch those women looking at my jewelry.”
Wife: “That one woman put on a bracelet and I think she’s trying to steal it.”
Me: “So? Who cares? Get her to take the rest of it too.”
Wife: “You gave me that.”
Me: “You don’t like it and haven’t worn it in ten years.”
Not only don’t I need to ever have a yard sale again but I also don’t need to go shop other’s garbage. I’ve got plenty of my own thanks. In fact, if I start going to yard sales I have a strategy. I’m going to load up my car at home with junk and then visit busy sales. If I’m careful I figure I can slip stuff from my car and leave it at the sale for someone else to worry about.
Mechanic: “How much for the weed whacker?”
Host: “What weed whacker?”
Mechanic: “The Ryobi weed whacker.”
Host: “Honey, where did we get the weed whacker?”
Honey: “What weed whacker?”
Me (driving away): Snickering.
I think you nailed this one. You had me laughing out loud. This is pretty big around here in the summer too.
This was a funny one, Pete!! The jewelry and weed whacker exchanges almost set off my PBA. I too had a yard sale – Once!! I think most normal people stop at one for the same reasons you mention – too much work, not enough revenue, and STILL a pile of junk to dispose of at the end. I hope others enjoyed this as well.
Pete, this is a treasure! I found that the crummier something is, the faster it goes. My mom was unable to purge so she gifted me with her junk. She would say thinks like, ‘What did you do with that piece of screen?’ Gone for 5 cents! Life yard sale lessons: 1) once you give it away, it’s none of your business what happened to it; 2) a free pile makes all kinds of stuff go away that you don’t need to put back in your garage; 3) if you haven’t used it in 6 months, let someone else get value; 4) donate to Habitat for Humanity or other donation service; and finally 5) clean up your stuff and stop squirreling away every piece of Ethernet cable you own, otherwise, we will see you on the 2020 season of Hoarders.