Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Story Jar - Rummage Sales

The Story Jar Published July 4, 2007 in the Patriot and Free Press
copyright Elaine Hardman

One could skip the length of our attic today. Two weeks ago there was a maze of suitcases, boxes, a large train board, a dozen pair of skis and some striking orange ski boots that stopped all progress from door to window. In the intervening time, I’ve had a rummage sale.

My first involvement in a rummage sale was on Willets Avenue in Belmont at Rain’s house circa 1984. Rain invited people to bring things to her house, cover the lawn and driveway with merchandise and think marketing. Prior to the invitation I’d shopped at flea markets but this was different - a glorious experience. People took away things I no longer needed or wanted leaving me with money and space. It was like meeting someone and knowing we’d be friends for life.
Charlie called it

The Neighborhood Exchange because during the “set up” on Friday, we’d each find things we liked – wanted – NEEDED and we traded this for that gobbling up within our own group the best of the best. Before we put up the “open” sign, it was a success though the sales were great too. The purchases people were inspired to make and the amount of money one can gain by collecting quarters are both grand.

During the sale, we talked about marketing and display. We changed things constantly hanging a choice shirt in a tree or moving a large item toward the road to catch a driver’s eye. Visible things help bring shoppers and shoppers bring more shoppers most of whom leave with good stuff, stuff we would never move again.

Over the years Emilie and Jay had lemonade stands and learned to choose what
to sell and how to price. Counting money was no mere math exercise. It was serious work, well-rewarded. More than once, they earned their new school clothes by working at the rummage sale. The deal was that they could buy anything they wanted but they only had the money in their envelopes. The money was strewn throughout the Galleria Mall. Those were the best school-shopping years.

A few rummage sale items stand out among the thousands. One year we had about a dozen extra doors to sell then there was a Kohler sink purchased for $200 and rejected by every rummage attendee. It stayed in Rain’s garage for a couple of years and was finally dragged to the solid waste transfer station to begin its 100 year exercise in decomposition on county land.

I remember a beautiful wool skirt offered by Gail. I tried it on thinking it looked big enough for me though I clearly had 20 pounds on Gail’s well-exercised frame. A woman scooped it up as soon as I returned it to the table. “Do you think it will fit me?” she asked holding it at her waist with inches of hip shouting on each side of the skirt.
“It’s too small for me. Why don’t you try it on?” I suggested.
“No,” she said, “It’ll fit.”
Maybe none of us can see ourselves well.

There were years when we had bets about what would be the first item sold or which item would make someone the happiest. Sometimes Pat would recite over and over, "Someone has to buy that couch."

Once Rick took a load of trash to the dump before a sale started but this stack of plastic lawn chairs didn’t fit in the truck. He left them near the porch planning on a second garbage run but by the time he returned, I had given them to someone for their camp.

A few years ago a man paid for a set of maple chairs but he had to go home for his truck. He left the money and the chairs and never came back. The chairs waited for him on the porch for a month or more and then, well, what could I do? I sold them again. Now if someone can’t take a purchase with them, I keep their phone number or sometimes we deliver.

Once I offered a dresser we had purchased but never moved past the clean-it-up location in our garage. I priced it low so it would sell. People looked, thought, measured and offered half the money. I took a name and number as a back-up deal but near the end of the sale I moved boldly and raised the price to what we paid. The first man down the driveway wrote a check for the full amount.

When I retired I filled the van time after time to empty the classroom of my personal items - tables, chairs, a microwave, a small refrigerator, lots of games and puzzles and more books than even I could believe. It was the year that Emilie earned her Master’s from Brandeis but she didn’t want an audience at graduation. She wanted us to celebrate instead by being in the audience at Cirque du Soleil. The rummage sale turned books into cash for our family trip to Cirque in New York.

“Your rummage sales are legend,” Judy told me. I’m not sure what that means but I’m sure that we still have extra stuff in the garage and there are 2 closets in need of cleaning. Are you interested in a Singer treadle machine or an HO railroad board with tracks, switches and power supply? Where else could you find a blue shark’s skin suit from the 60s? Meet me near under the apple tree and we’ll make a deal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your perspective on these events! I'm almost tempted to buy and re-sell items just for expanding the potential of the experience at my sale.

The sorting does lead to a wonderful trip down memory lane ;-)

Patti, aka Josh's mom