Community August 4, 2008

Garage Sales: The Art of the Deal

Hobby Shopping Proves Lucrative

It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and the middle-aged couple buying cups of coffee at a Bellevue gas station has that look: comfortable clothing, newspaper classifieds tucked under the arms and unwashed hair covered in baseball caps.

It’s garage sale day in the Wood River Valley, and there are bargains to be had from the Bellevue Triangle to Hulen Meadows.

This couple will join hundreds of others from Blaine County and beyond, forming a snake of cars, trucks and SUVs that will wind its way up and down the Wood River Valley throughout the morning.

Every Saturday during the snow-free months, it’s a safe bet that at least a couple dozen local families will be displaying belongings in their driveways and front yards, inviting the rest of us to browse through what they don’t want, in search of what we do.

And there are several reasons Sun Valley garage sales are so great.

“I have fabulous taste,” said Kim Rogers, who on July 15 had her driveway off Warm Springs Road covered with furniture, kitchen appliances, rugs and the Heritage Village Christmas Collection, still in the original boxes and bearing the price tags from Janes.

Like many garage sale hosts, Rogers had too much stuff for her house and was ready to rid herself of the excess clutter during the summer garage sale season.

“Our season here is so short.” Rogers said. “You gather stuff all winter and only have a three-month window to get rid of it all.”

Others holding sales are more under the gun, with the sale of a home, the expiration of a lease or a remodeling project requiring them to unload possessions in a hurry.

And the items being sold are fantastic, and offered at fantastically low prices.

Rogers’ martini painting, for example, done locally—priced to sell at $50.

A shopper pulls up in a Toyota 4Runner, picks up Rogers’ old phone, and makes a beeline for a stack of blue and white plates that are in pristine condition.

“How much do you want for these dishes?” she asks.

“Eight bucks,” Rogers answers.

“I’ll do that,” she says, grateful when Rogers offers a box to hold the 16 plates and eight bowls .

Every garage seller has a personal style. Rogers has adopted the strategy of no price tags, choosing to approach people when they seem interested in an item. This allows her to skip the paperwork and drop prices as the morning drags on and items don’t sell.

And her morning is going very well.

“I started at eight o’clock this morning, people were here by 7:30 and I had made a couple hundred bucks by 8:15,” she said, with only a few items left to sell. “I thought I’d be done by noon. I’m ready to get some lunch and do some retail therapy.”

Over on Firewood Lane in Elkhorn, Wendy Isen has turned her garage into a bargain hunter’s dream, and her friend Charlene Levie has taken over the driveway.

The benefits of joining forces are many: you have a bigger sale to draw in the crowds, your advertising efforts are combined, and you will have friends to keep you company throughout the day.

Isen’s home is for sale, prompting her to try to unload her art books, tools, khaki pants, three sets of crutches, snow tires for a Camry, Ping-Pong paddles, two corkscrews, two bottle openers and a wine key. Everything is in great shape, and bears a colored price tag.

Though she’s not much of a garage sale fan herself, she’s not surprised to see so many people out on the circuit on such a nice day. >>>



 “I asked people why and they say they do it every weekend. I asked what they do with the extra stuff and they say they have a garage sale.”

Isen and Levie did the standard ad in the local weekly newspapers and put a painted sign reading

“Great Garage Sale” with balloons at the intersection of Elkhorn Road and Highway 75. They opened at 9 a.m. and Levie estimated at least 100 people came through by 10:30, including many locals that she recognized.

That’s another perk: because of the geography of the Valley, many people follow the same path through the sales, running into friends, neighbors and co-workers throughout the morning, and turning the trek into a social event.

Levie meanwhile was out on the driveway, hoping someone would snatch up her “2000” champagne flutes, plastic utensil holders, and a wildlife painting that cost $475. It now has a $65 price tag, and there’s not a single sign that it’s not straight from the gallery.

“A lot of the stuff I’m selling for 5 percent of what I paid for it,” Levie calculated.

“I’ve really learned from doing this yard sale,” she said. “I never go early; I show up at 11 o’clock. I got here at 8:15 to unpack my stuff and there were 30 people here waiting. You need to get to your own yard sale two hours early.”

Ah, the early birds. No matter what time a sale starts, people are there earlier, trying to have first dibs. Isen and Levie hung a rope across the driveway to keep them out until 9 a.m.

So was the sale worth it?

“It’s a lot of hard work, going through stuff, pricing it, packing it, schlepping it,” said Levie. “The selling is more fun than the preparation.”

Down on First Street in downtown Ketchum, Heidi Lucas was pitching an antique General Electric radio the size of a washing machine, complete with dusty vacuum tubes. The tag said $100, but Lucas said she had some room to bargain. A great-looking piece, but does it even work?

“It only gets the religious channel,” she answered.

Lucas was working the garage sale at the home of friend Terri Davis. Davis had to work and Lucas was covering the sale so that the two of them could leave in the afternoon for a spa in Boise.

“People were here at 8:15,” said Lucas. “There was so much stuff and it just went so quickly.” The sale had brought in $500 by 11 a.m., and things were winding down.

But as the morning’s sales slowed, Toni Jenner was already planning the next day at her Ohio Gulch home on Shaun Lane.

“We sold so much I’m going to add more stuff and do it again tomorrow,” she said.

Jenner was quick to share her advice, which started with organizing things ahead of time—four days ahead in her case. She also handed out muffins to the early shoppers.

“Be friendly and ask people what they’re looking for,” she said. “Be ready early, because you get slammed when you’re not quite ready.” And, “you have to do lots of bargains.”

As noon approached, the garage sale crowd piled back into vehicles and returned home to eat, shower and admire their purchases. But they have only a few days rest. On Wednesday the newspaper classifieds will come out, and it will be time to plan the next Saturday’s garage sale route.

This article appears in the Fall 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.