Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Big Sale 2013

It's the most bargain-filled time of the year....

Yes, it's that time again: the weekend of Highland Park's annual town-wide yard sale. Shopping this event is always a bit complicated, because the sales are spread out all over town, and about half of them are one day only (Saturday or Sunday, but not both). Last year, I tried to simplify the process by marking up a map to show where the sales would be thickest on the ground. This year, I took it a step further and color-coded the map: green for Saturday sales, red for Sunday, and black for both days. Once we had the map all marked up, the red X's clearly outnumbered the green ones, suggesting that Sunday might be a more fruitful shopping day than Saturday. However, the bulk of the sales were two-day ones, and we knew that we'd find better goodies at those if we hit them early on, before too many other shoppers had picked them over. So we made a point of hitting the streets on Saturday morning promptly at the official start time of 9am.

This turned out to be a good move. Although we still ran across a fair number of sales that were complete duds, we found far more interesting items in just those first few hours of shopping than we'd encountered since we first moved into this house. We were only able to shop for a few hours in the morning, because we had plans to attend a Princeton football game at 1pm, yet in those few hours we picked up everything you see here, including three baskets, nine books, two puzzles, a couple of toys, one soldering iron, a scarf, three Ball jars complete with new rubber rings, and one vintage Erector Set, circa 1971, still in its original packaging and barely touched. (When Brian asked his folks which of our nieces or nephews was most likely to appreciate it, their advice was, "Hold onto it; it might actually be worth something.") And even among the items that weren't of special interest to us, it seemed like we were finding a much better proportion of "good stuff"—tools, furniture, clothes in good condition—at these sales than we had in previous years. In fact, Brian speculated that maybe the improvement in our local yard sales was a concrete sign that the economy was on the mend: people were starting to sell interesting stuff again because they had actually replaced some of their old stuff in the past year, rather than holding on to anything that still worked.

After our run of good luck on Saturday, Sunday's sales proved to be a bit of a letdown. Even though we still set out bright and early in the morning and stuck to the most sale-heavy areas, we found much slimmer pickings than before, even at the sales that were designated as Sunday-only. Maybe we'd become jaded after the previous day's successes, or maybe the areas we shopped on Sunday just weren't as treasure-rich as the ones we hit on Saturday, but whatever the reason, it seemed like we had to pick through a much larger dunghill to extract the few remaining pearls. This time, in three hours of shopping, we found only four books, one game, and a few miscellaneous items for the house. Our best score of the day was a big box filled with squares of cherry wood—at least fifty of them—all for a buck. True, we don't actually have a specific use for these at the moment, but it's really nice wood that could work for a wide variety of projects—anything from a hot plate to an inlaid table.

We did come across one really interesting find that we didn't end up taking home with us. At one of the last sales we visited, Brian spotted a trombone case sitting under a table, and opening it up found that there was an intact trombone inside. Brian tends to look on musical instruments of any kind as yard sale pay dirt, but he later confessed later that a trombone was one that he'd specifically fantasized about finding. It didn't matter that neither of us plays the trombone, and neither of us knows anyone who does; he started spinning scenarios in which he would either take up the instrument himself or pass it on to one of our nieces or nephews (at some later date, presumably, when their arms would actually be long enough to play it). The owner said to take a look at it and then make an offer, but while Brian was standing there contemplating the case and debating over what it was worth, another shopper literally snatched it from under his nose. It was obvious that his rival knew nothing about the instrument and was only interested in it for resale, since he first asked the seller, "Does it work?" (which would have been obvious to anyone who could identify all the parts) and then proceeded to turn the trombone upside down, letting the slide fall to the ground. Brian, seeing his prize about to slip from his grasp, hastily made an offer of ten bucks—but the other buyer promptly countered with twenty, which Brian had already decided was his limit, so he ruefully let it go.

By that time, the shopping was beginning to pall on us. We passed by a few more sales on the way back to our car, and a few more in the car on the way home, but we spared them barely a glance—sales that we'd almost certainly pull off the road for and investigate with care if we happened on them in the dry season, but now dismissed as not worth the effort. So we headed home with our smaller haul and called it a day. Still, putting the two days together, our weekend of sale-shopping can only be considered a rousing success. In just six hours of shopping, we visited over 50 sales, picked up several useful items for ourselves, and made a significant dent in our holiday shopping—all for a grand total of $25.50. We didn't bring home any items we were specially on the lookout for, such as board games, but we definitely got good value for the time and money we spent.

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