Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saling, saling

This weekend is the annual town-wide yard sale in Highland Park. The normal fee for a yard sale permit is waived, and a local Realtor helps to publicize the event, providing signs and maps showing where sales can be found. It's one of my favorite events, since it concentrates such a large number of yard sales in a relatively small space that you're practically guaranteed to find something of interest. Admittedly, we've never been able to duplicate the haul we brought home four years ago, when we'd just moved into this house and we loaded up on tools, including a push mower, a circular saw, and a pair of pruning shears. But we can always manage to find at least a book or an article of clothing, which is more than we usually come away with from a randomly encountered sale.

This year, we didn't do too badly. We set out Saturday morning right after breakfast, and we managed to find a new guitar case for me (to replace the old one that succumbed to mold), a couple of carpet samples that we can use as needed to refurbish our homemade cat scratching post, a book, a puzzle, and a few random gifts for nephews and nieces before hunger, sore feet, and an unexpected squall of rain sent us home again. We also had ample opportunity to see many yard sales, and to observe the difference between a good sale and a bad one. Here's a short list of general rules I've come up with for running a decent, user-friendly yard sale. (Of the many sales we saw yesterday, almost none had followed all of them.)
  1. Arrange items so people can see them. If you have clothes, either hang them up or lay them out side by side on a table, not in a huge pile. If you have books, put them on shelves, or arrange them in boxes with their spines facing up so people can read the titles. If shoppers have to rummage through boxes just to see what's available, most of them won't find it worth the effort.
  2. Group like items together—all clothes on one table, kitchen items on another, tools on a third. Some of the sales we encountered seemed to be nothing but boxes of randomly grouped items, perhaps just hauled down from the attic that morning.
  3. Give people room to move around. Some sales we visited looped round from the front yard to the back, up a driveway or a narrow walkway lined with tables so that there was barely room for one person to stop and look, let alone for others to pass by.
  4. Put prices on items. This was the rule most frequently ignored at yesterday's sales. I think we only saw one sale that actually had every item priced. It was a real nuisance having to ask the price of any item we had an interest in—assuming we could find someone to ask. Which brings me to the fifth and most obvious rule:
  5. Have someone there at all times who is obviously in charge. If buyers can't find anyone to take their money or answer their questions, they'll walk away empty-handed (or perhaps even walk away with stuff they haven't paid for).
As a side note, another interesting lesson we learned from our morning of yard-saling was that if you walk around carrying a guitar case, even if there's no guitar in it, people are a lot more likely to strike up a conversation with you. Before we bought the case, we mingled among the other shoppers more or less unnoticed; afterwards, when Brian was carrying the guitar case around with some of our smaller purchases in it, someone at nearly every sale we visited called out, "Hey, where'd you get the guitar?"
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