Despite it being the chief industry of Hopewell, I have always avoided yard sales, considering them to be a place where people try to sell garbage rather than toss it. In other words, it’s an attempt to perform the biblical-level miracle of turning trash into cash.
I had no intention of violating my anti-yard sale code until I found out that Hopewell Borough holds an annual townwide yard sale each June, and I was in possession of a surfeit of stuff.
One amiable neighbor provided the following wisdom: Some people have yard sales to get rid of stuff, some people to make money. I opted for the first category.
Having no prior yard sale experience, I found setting up to be total improvisation. I trotted out three pairs of sawhorses, boards and two bridge tables. Later, I observed cannier townsfolk who had set up tarps as shade for potential patrons.
Early Saturday, the buyers arrived.
Effortlessly, I sold two lawn chairs and two propane tanks. I sold an old fedora claiming that it had once been owned by Indiana Jones. A man from Guatemala bought a large, never-flown American flag.
I sold costume jewelry, a bottle opener, four Garfield books, a tennis racquet, a magnifying glass, a plastic owl with a revolving head, and a crumbling papier maché goose. Not a single Beanie Baby sold.
One woman wanted to buy a framed needle point and a brand new wetsuit with the pricey price tag still attached, both for $5. I insisted on $5 for each. She walked away with neither. “I’d rather donate the items to Goodwill than feed such grasping behavior,” I grumbled to myself.
In the 1970s, I did pottery. Now, with no room for the resulting cups, tureens and cookie jars, I set them out. To my surprise, people actually admired and bought a few pieces. Suddenly, I was no longer an amateur thrower of clay but a professional artist with an appreciative clientele.
Most popular were pieces of kitsch that friends had passed on to me in hopes of eliminating ugliness from their home. Attracting greatest interest was a ceramic moose lying on its back, hoofs up, waiting to support a liquor bottle.
“How much?” multitudes asked. It sold for $5.
In an incredibly clever sales ploy, I put up a “Geeks Only” sign in one corner of my driveway hoping to sell old computer keyboards, speakers, telephones and miles of coaxial cable. The only things that sold were two pairs of earbuds at fifty cents each. So much for my salesmanship.
It turned out that kids love yard sales. Where else could they buy a treasure to match their allowance? One entrepreneurial 10-year-old wanted to trade an old flashlight for a cell phone case. I’d have given him the item except his bargaining was so gifted and aggressive that I got caught up in the back and forth. “No, I don’t want your broken flashlight,” I told him.
VHS tapes and a working VCR tempted no one. But I did get rid of a venerable (probably scratched) Peter, Paul and Mary album. No one wanted other sixties classics like Vaughn Meader’s First Family or Allan Sherman’s My Son the Folksinger.
Strangely, browsers kept on wanting to buy not-for-sale items in my garage like bicycles, watering cans and flowerpots.
When minimally profitable Saturday ended, I dragged everything inside only to set up again Sunday for a sparser crowd and fewer sales.
Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, at the end of the yard sales, Hopewell Borough allows for whatever hasn’t sold to be picked up by a garbage truck. They will take anything that isn’t radioactive or alive.
But late Sunday, vulturine junk dealers arrived and began picking at the piles of refuse. One guy began clipping the cord from a discarded electric coffee pot. He said that if he were able to fill his garage with enough metal, he could make a little money selling to scrap dealers.
I offered him my vast coils of wire. He was so grateful that he gave me a T-shirt advertising his day job as a purveyor of ancient phonographs, the kind with a horn that dogs talk into. I gladly added his gift to my stack of 44,000 T-shirts.
In retrospect, I realize how ill-suited I am to preside over a yard sale. I tended to take the process personally. Even though I feigned indifference, I was offended by people who looked but didn’t buy, and that comprised the majority of folks who toured my driveway and who are now added to the hordes of people I resent.
Ultimately, I sold a miserable 46 items netting just under $3.97. If I deduct my own labor costs for planning, set-up and tear-down, I lost over $650. That’s capitalism in action.
Robin Schore lives in Hopewell Borough.