Ah, the garage, one of America's gifts to world architecture. As garden sheds are to Brits, garages are to Yanks. Designed for cars, or course, but they also serve as workshop, storage for garden tools and is the home of dusty Christmas decorations and the ubiquitous lawn mower. In fact, it is not unusual to see the car abandoned on the driveway, as the garage is too full of other things to accommodate it any longer. A blend of oil, exhaust and grass cuttings fills the airs. A homeowner's personality is instantly realized in this snapshot. A quick glance around can reveal the ages of owners and kids, their messiness tolerance, organizational skills and collector habits. Pets? Recyclers? DIY Pros? The garage tells all. Garage sales make a lot of sense. Sellers pile up their stuff in the garage over the weeks, open the doors and sell their unwanted stuff, usually on a Saturday, but sometimes on Friday and Sunday. Americans consider Sundays to be a family day or church day, so Saturday is the biggest weekend day for sales. You don't have to worry about the weather, yucky port-a-loos, or loading up the car at 5 am like British car-booters do.
For A Successful Day You Will Need:
1) A newspaper. Ads begin to appear in the Wednesday and Thursday papers (as some sales will begin on Friday). Friday's paper will also have a large listing of the Saturday sales. Occasionally sellers will only put out a sign and balloons to attract driver's attention, so you'll see more sales as you drive along in which to stop. Advertising and signage tend to be quite good as lone garage sales do not have the power of numbers to attract buyers as car boots do. Read the ad carefully and see if they are describing bits that are of interest. If they list a phone number that means they are willing to sell things before the sale. Often the best bits will be purchased by the night before by an assertive dealer. The start time will also be listed.
2) A car. With a full tank of petrol. Garages exist mainly in the suburbs. Urban neighbourhoods that do not have garages, say, in New York City, will have other forms of second hand selling, such as flea markets, alley sales or estate sales. Be prepared for plenty of driving between sales and neighbourhoods. American driving distances are long. It can take over 2 hours (in good traffic) to drive from the outer north suburbs of Chicago to the outer south suburbs, and that does not include stopping at any sales!
3) A good map. Or Sat Nav. Ideally both. Most American garage sales will not advertise a postal code, but list an address and the name of the neighbourhood development.
4) A working knowledge of neighbourhoods. Residents, business owners and real estate agents may be able to help you learn about different areas. The object of your search dictates which neighbourhoods to visit. Looking for higher end antiques: target the older wealthier, most desirable neighbourhoods. Need vintage clothing? Try neighbourhoods with an older population. Want children's clothes and toys? Aim for the suburbs, located in the outlying areas where cheaper land and new housing developments attract young families.
5) A plan. Diehard buyers will plan a route the night before, including other estates sales and flea markets along the way to make the most efficient use of time and petrol, knowing which neighbourhoods are their priority. Fast food restaurants are a great place for a toilet break.
6) An alarm clock. Get up early. The dealers will be out knocking on doors as early as 6 am, even when the ad states no early birds. Most sellers do not appreciate earlier birders, viewing them as aggressive and as an annoyance. Most garage sales start around 8am. Grab a donut from a drive through and then you are garage salin' American style. Sales usually wind down around noon.
7) Cash. Bring small bills and change. No need to miss an item because the seller hasn't enough change. Of course, dollars only!
8) Respect. Garages are in people's homes. There may be clearly designated areas that have the items for sale (such as on a table). Or may be not. With a smile, just ask what is for sale. Americans are not as private about their homes as the British and have a keen sense of hospitality. However, it is their home, so keep any negative comments about item condition and prices to yourself, and don't wander into non sale areas.
Keep in mind that storing items after purchase at the seller's house is not normally done, unless it is something very, very large, like a sofa or appliance. Best to take it with you. Pick up is expected on the day of the sale, unless otherwise negotiated.
Types of Garage Sales
The Barn Sale
Like a garage sale, but in a barn. As expected, they are in rural areas. Lots of fun, and an opportunity to admire vernacular American rural architectural. Very old barns were made by hand -be sure to ask the owner if there is an interesting story about their barn. Similarly a porch sale is on the porch!
The Yard Sale
So how is a yard sale different from a garage sale? Technically the yard sale is held in the yard (garden) and the garage sale is in the garage. However, the two will blend in to each other, where items are moved on to the yard, or vice versa. Be mindful of your hosts: don't start poking around the garage if it appears that the sale is only including items in the yard. And likewise, if it appears that everything is in the garage, don't poke around the yard.
State Fair Yard Sales
What to do with the state fair grounds when the state fair is not going on? Towns like Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Raleigh all have state fair yard sales. Much more like a British Car boot, as sellers are bringing items to the buyers, rather than attracting buyers to the sale. Many regular dealers will stand - in other words, have a stall.
The Tag Sale
The expression used in parts of the East coast of the US. It means the same as a garage sale or yard sale.
The Estate Sale
This term is used specifically to indicate a house clearance, but with one major difference: the sale occurs in the house, unlike in the UK where items are removed by a house clearance company. It usually refers to the property of an older person who has either recently died or moved in to assisted living. These sales have their own etiquette and features which will require a longer discussion than can occur here.
The Neighborhood Community Sale
Many neighbors will collaborate and pick one date of the year to hold a neighborhood-wide garage sale. These will be advertised in the paper by community or development names, such as Suburban Estate's Community Garage Sale. Participating homes should be obvious, by balloons on the mailbox, signs, banners, flags, streamers or other obvious activity. Do not knock on doors that are not participating. Sometimes a community may be raising funds for a particular cause. They may involve up to 100 participants.
Americans like things big. The garage sale is no exception. So when a garage sale begins to span across state lines, it is probably time to take notice. At the moment, the world's longest yard sale is the Highway 127 Corridor Yard Sale. It is over 654 miles long, from West Unity, Ohio to Gadsben, Alabama. Wow. It's been going on since 1987 and is always starts the first Thursday of August. I guess you could consider it the Appalachian version of Lille. It's original intent was to get people to rediscover the joys of back road travel (meaning travel outside of the Interstate System which, while efficient, transformed the American landscape. Back roads and old rural highways give you a better introduction to America, unlike the anonymous Interstate. The route covers back roads in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Be aware of expensive hotels and bumper to bumper traffic. See www.127sale.com for more info.
Other giant sales of note include:
New York Route 91 Yard Sale, 50 miles long, in July
West Michigan Longest Yard Sale, 75 miles long, Michigan Highway 37, in June
Great US 50 Yard Sale from Ocean City, MD to Sacramento, CA. Over 3100 miles long. Not as well known as Highway 127, this sale is growing in participation. Held in May.
New York City The Garage is a flea market run by Hell's Kitchen Flea Market at 112 W. 25th Street on Saturday & Sunday. This is not a garage sale, but a flea market held in an old parking garage. Highly recommend! See Hell's Kitchen Flea Market.
Finally, it is a Yard Sale Blood Bath!
For more information on this American phenomena, no one does it better than the Seattle based bloggers Meghan and Jenny at yardsalebloodbath. Check them out at yardsalebloodbath.com. What fun! In addition to a kick ass name, they've promoted the expression Yard Sale Catch and Release Program which is marvellous, and will be appreciated by second hand junkies worldwide.