Come Sale AwayApril 26, 2014
Story by Jason Recker
Photos by Carolyn Van Houten
There were so many of them that the best way to exit the cul-de-sac was probably to throw it in reserve. When they're stacked on the shoulder the way they were that spring morning, there is little room for a U-turn. But Pam Patterson wasn't driving. She had just risen from bed back on Good Friday of 1998 when she noticed car door commotion and conversational clutter near the street on which she and her husband had just moved.
"I didn't know what was going on," Patterson remembered.
She called a couple friends. They didn't know. So she opened the door.
There it was. A yard sale — maybe you call it a garage sale. A driveway peppered with tables of miscellaneous goods that lack value to the peddler but might mean something to some random bargain shopper from who knows where. There was just one sale on Hayland Drive that morning, but people were everywhere.
The sales have value, sure. But there's plenty of frivolity. It's a quirky yet satisfying ritual that's a little intense, a little relaxed.
In the days preceding Easter each spring — be they in March or April — yard sales, especially in a handful of neighborhoods south of the highway that cuts through Ireland, go big-time.
"I finally ventured outside," Patterson said of that morning 16 years ago. "I started talking to neighbors and they said it happens every year."
A year after her discovery, Patterson joined the discount bonanza. She and her husband, Aaron, were newlyweds with too much stuff. So they unloaded whatever they could at their first yard sale.
They've since relocated one street east, to Wheatland Drive and closer to the epicenter of the mecca of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday hodgepodge heaven. Pam has nearly perfected the skills necessary for successfully hosting a sale.
Shirt too small for her 11-year-old daughter or 7-year old son? Label it with a price tag, fold it, rest it in a storage tub in the basement. She has a stockpile of price tags with assorted prices; all include her initials because when up to 10 families combine their wares for a sale, you have to track what's yours. She has a bin full of hangers. She has five homemade yellow signs boldly marked with a black arrow and the words "YARD SALE."
She also has standards.
She won't display clothes until the night before the sale, for fear they'll absorb musty-garage aroma. She won't sell clothes she judges too worn. She hangs every shirt and pair of pants. She won't price people out of a deal.
"I do it so somebody can find a treasure they want, something they like that they wouldn't go spend top-dollar on in a store. Or they can find something unique. And they just want to have it. Or just a good deal," Patterson says.
The Pattersons sell about 75 percent of their stock. The leftovers, they haul to the St. Vincent De Paul Society store in Jasper. Usually, it's children's clothes for $2, holiday decor for a buck and books for 50 cents. The most the Patterson have grossed is about $600. Sometimes, it's only $200. She knows folks who've made better than $1,000. She opens at 3 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday — Holy Saturday is no longer vogue, so Patterson and many fellow Ireland hosts have ditched the day — fully aware her first customer will walk past the orange bucket blocking the driveway and stroll into the garage well before the posted launch.
"I put those signs up at lunch Thursday and my way home from work, and within an hour, there will be people sitting outside, waiting," Patterson said. "Once they know how to get to the neighborhood, they're in."
The 14 pairs of underwear were on the market for $1 each. The unworn Fruit of the Loom was ripe for the picking, and one couple asked Patterson's mother, Sue Schnarr, if she could buy in bulk.
"I offered her all 14 pair for $8," Sue said.
The husband agreed. The wife declined. Potential sales rarely go south.
When a woman named Michelle Arney approached Patterson with two framed flower prints, she hoped to buy the pair for less than $10.
"They're $10 a set," Patterson said.
"Will you take any less?" Arney countered.
"How about $5 total?" Patterson offered.
"Great," concluded Arney, punctuating a duel for a deal that spanned less than 10 seconds.
A few hundred yards south and one left turn from the Pattersons' home, Terri Jacob spent Thursday bartering despite not planning to actually commence her sale until Friday. People came, and she didn't turn them away. Income: $600.
Jacob was eager enough for sales that she let strangers into her son's bedroom to examine bunk beds while her eighth-grade offspring slept in one of them. She apologized before she flipped on the light. Also for sale at the Jacob residence: A scooter for $1,200. A group of five men and one woman gathered around the machine Friday and nudged the kickstand, squeezed the brakes and rubbed a scratch near the handlebars. Ruben Diaz, a 20-year-old from Jasper, was interested. But not for $1,200. Maybe $1,000.
Jacob offered a test drive. Diaz accepted, rolled down the driveway and headed south on Sugar Cane Court. He returned willing to pay $800. Jacob didn't want to sink below $900. She called her husband. No answer. She urged her son, the scooter pilot still asleep in the bunk bed, to wake up. Slow going. By then, the crowd around Diaz and the black scooter swelled to 10.
"I said I wouldn't go under $1,000. Maybe I would have gone $900," Jacob said. "He wanted $800. I got his phone number."
When two of her children qualified for the Destination ImagiNation global finals, Molly Pies knew the success came with a asterisk denoting a dollar amount. The trip to Knoxville, Tenn., isn't cheap. With four children ages 5 through 11, the family had plenty of unused, unwanted and long-forgotten goodies. They used Good Friday as an avenue for charity.
Every shopper who walked up the Ladino Lane driveway that day was made aware they'd be supporting a DI squad from Ireland Elementary. Some things were tagged with prices. Others were open to whatever price the customer was willing to pay. Pies sold a stack of interlocking foam play pads for $3.
"I don't want to carry them back inside,"Pies told the woman. "Make us an offer. We'll be happy with any contribution you can make to our efforts."
Pies patrolled the driveway but was the lone adult on site. DI requires its young participants to do the work, so at 6:30 a.m., 11-year-old Anna Pies and her teammates paired their innovative attributes with some roll-your-butt-out-of-bed toughness. They stacked the tables. They wooed customers with signs. (Among their pitches was the line "Buy our items, new and old. But if you break it, consider it sold.") They sold hot chocolate and coffee. They counted money.
"It was really cold and dark," Anna said of her morning. "We don't get help from parents. We had to bring all the stuff out, advertise. But being with my friends has been fun."
Reid Adams said he'd get in the bunny suit, and he meant it.
The 12-year-old stood alongside Ladino Lane a bit before noon Friday bouncing and barking as cars puttered past. He and six pals were selling cups of lemonade for 50 cents, seven flavors of popsicles for 75 cents and chocolate chip cookies at two for 50 cents. There was no yard sale at the home where they stationed themselves, but they knew they could capitalize on entrepreneurship.
Sandy Sermersheim's son Brandon, 12, was part of the crew at the streetside table. The Sermersheims hosted the miniature bake sale. At Walmart on Thursday night, the kids wondered what might make for a hot item on a cool morning. They landed on cookies. But those are always better when they're homemade. So, um, mom? Sandy obliged and stayed up until 2 a.m. baking seven dozen. She was lauded as a dedicated mother. She questioned her own sanity.
Cara Adams, Reid's 10-year-old sister, admitted to eating at least a couple pieces of potential profit.
Brandon, Reid, Cara, 16-year-old Brooke Adams, 12-year-old Trenton Hopf, 10-year-old Camden Hopf and 9-year-old Nolan Sander opened their stand at 9:30 a.m. By noon, they'd made $17.50.
Reid had lost the "Happy Easter" sign he'd taped to his stomach and the furry legs on the bunny costume were short enough that his ankles were exposed, but he kept pitching the product to anybody and everybody who passed. He didn't stop to think about what he was selling.
"As long as I don't see the cookies," he said, "I won't eat them."
Keith Birchler stopped where few had.
Albums — the kind you play on a record player with a needle — stacked in a cardboard box lured him away from everything else on sale. One album was autographed by a singer named Kaye Golden, who thanked Linus Schnarr, the man who bought the record some 30 years ago, for being "my friend and fan." One included the"Rubber Ducky" song from Sesame Street. There was some Dean Martin, a few polka tunes, Bill Cosby's comedy and 1970s Tom Jones. Birchler was after the soundtracks."Gone With The Wind." "South Pacific." "West Side Story."
"These are in mint condition," he noted.
Birchler and his wife, Kristie, left their Duff home Friday morning in search of nothing in particular. With the kids in school, they had an open morning to hunt for whatever captivated them. For Keith, it was the albums. He left with three — one of a man named Fred Lowery whistling Gospel favorites, a three-album set of Christmas songs and the soundtrack from Oklahoma. He already has that last one, but its scratched. The new one, which set him back $1, is perfect.
"You can just sit back and enjoy," said Birchler, acknowledging that, at 42 years old, he's fairly young for the old-school record crowd. "It's just a different sound. That digital stuff now is too clear. It doesn't seem real."
Like yard sale hosts say, you never know what people will buy.
Friday's Ireland sales included $2 bags of cat litter, a book promising to teach you 100 things you need to know (for instance, the third-most spoken language in the world is Hindi) and a sign warning that there's "No fartin' in the hot tub." Somebody bought old strands of Christmas lights because, even if the bulbs don't work, they emit pretty colors when tossed in a camp fire. A Mennonite woman couldn't pass up several dozen used golf balls. Sue Schnarr had antique salt and pepper shakers she'd been trying to basically give away for a decade.
"They sold today," Schnarr laughed.
"You think, 'Nobody is ever going to buy this,'" Patterson said.
And then, you wake up one morning and people are lined up just dying to buy things you don't want.
Contact Jason Recker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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