Friday, August 10, 2012

The Longest Yard Sale - Tips for the Novice

My foray into the other world that was the World's Longest Yard sale came along thanks to a heads up from Stephanie at The Cozy Old Farmhouse. Thank you, Stephanie! 

It wasn't but a day or so before I was to leave to visit Cally in AL that I found out this long-wished-for opportunity would come my way while I was there with her, and that it was starting only an hour from where she lives. What!? I could hardly believe the brilliance of the timing. After driving over 11 hours to get to Mountain Brook, what was one more hour on the road the next morning? I knew the joys that would await! Cally was kind enough to oblige me, despite the fact that spending a full day in the heat wandering through and looking at people's old junk was not on her list of top 10 ways to spend her waking hours, especially when it was one of two days she had off of work to get her new place in order. Thank you, Cally!

The adventure began with breakfast at the hotel that I had stayed at the night before. We got on the road a bit later than planned but the experience was every bit as fun as I thought it would be. I do regret that we couldn't go for more than one day, that I didn't concentrate on taking more (and better) pictures and that we passed up so many good things thinking we might come back to them later if we didn't find something better. 

Now hear this: There is no going back. You snooze, you lose.

I have a few other tips from my novice trip to the World's Longest Yard Sale. Feel free to learn from my maiden journey to this enticing venue of junk and stuff and treasures.

Have a Spending Strategy
or Come Prepared to Go For Broke

You may have heard it said, "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight," well I say don't bring a fist full of dollars to the World's Longest Yard Sale. That is unless you are a tightwad like me with fairly strict self-imposed spending limits and a thrifty daughter in tow who will keep you in line whenever you dare to err where financial prudence is concerned. Actually, even I came prepared with plenty of cash on hand. I knew the likelihood of finding something spectacular that I might not see for some time (if ever) again, if I didn't come with enough cash to spend. In the end, I found that space for hauling things might be more of a consideration than price, but my spendthrift ways did go a long way to holding me in financial check, that and Cally's facial expressions whenever I considered buying something pricey or that she considered too frivolous. Cheap habits die hard and they run in the family.

Photography 101

Take lots of pictures! By all means, if you are going to carry a humongous camera with you as you drive and haul it along every time you exit the vehicle, and if you are actually going to have it on your shoulder with every step you take - for heaven's sake, use it and use it well! 

Get in and get close. This was one of the few times I did just that. This huge light was something I would like to have bought, but at $25, it was way too expensive for me. I thought it would be a cool addition to the shop my friend and I want to open but she wasn't there to consult, so I let it lie. I saw soooo many things that would be cool for our potential shop, but without a consenting voice of affirmation, I had to pass them up.
  • Don't just take pictures as you are walking or driving or practically running from one place to the next, snapping random thoughtless distant shots of the general area as I did. What a waste! Learn from my mistakes. Look at my photos; you'll see what I mean. They could have been so great, but I didn't take the time.
  • Do take in the sights then set aside your concerns of what people think of you taking pictures (even your daughter) and just do it. I wish I had pictures of the people I spoke with too. They were one of the best parts of the whole day! Get your memories stored in digital format so you have them later (Especially if you are going to blog about it. People want interesting visuals! Right?) 
  • Besides, if you don't take pictures, you'll forget all those cool things you let get away. Capture them on camera so you can fully mope about, and rehash, what could've, would've and should've been when you get home.
Slow Down

This shot was one of those taken quickly from the car as I waited in standstill traffic.
  • We were in a bit of a hurry because, well, first of all there is so much to see that you don't want to miss a thing. Secondly, we were looking for some specific furniture pieces for Cally's new place. We did a lot of scanning of sales as we drove by, trying to see if they were worth stopping for, always mindful not to hold up traffic like some people in front of us did. I refrained from being a horn honker myself even though people inching down the road with a line of fanatical garage salers piling up behind them made Cally and I crazy a time or two. We tried to be polite and patient. One angry woman drove a long stretch of road laying on the horn for an eternity despite the fact that the woman in front of her was going along what seemed to be perfectly fine. Just come to the sale with your driving patience in good working order.

Enjoy the Experience

The fact is you aren't going to see it all, so you might as well actually take in and enjoy that which you ARE able to see!
  • We did do some quick run-throughs of some of the different vendors to see if they had anything remotely close to what we wanted. The day seemed short and the yard sale, endless. It's hard to stop and enjoy what's in front of you when you are thinking about what someone else might have that could be better and cheaper down the road (apparently what is true in life is also true with reard to yard sales!). The best parts of the day were those where we stopped and interacted with people, tried to score a deal (when it worked and even when our attempts failed) and those where we got an up close and personal look into the lives and stories of the folks along the way, not just a look at the items they had for sale.

A Strong Bladder Helps

Go to the bathroom before you begin and bring lots of water, preferably in a cooler. 

  • Having a vehicle with a good AC in it was invaluable for recharging our energy as we drove from one group of sales to the next. After each jaunt through a section of sales, we'd get back in the car and crank the air and chug water. Luckily we were so hot and we sweat so much that the water never seemed to make it to our bladders. That didn't stop us from following the signs to the Black Creek Fire Department on Tabor Road and Blackwell and Styles Bridges Roads that lured every woman at the Gadsden end of the sale with their strategically placed signs for miles; signs that boasted CLEAN RESTROOMS and great BBQ.
The #2 is where we started the sales, and we went as far as the #3 to the Black Creek Fire Department and then back again. How does anyone get through all the way to MI or even halfway in four days. Talk about rushing...
  • After stopping at a zillion sales on our way there, we decided to make that fire department our turnaround point, at which time we were going to go back and hit all the places we had noted down side streets, as well as others we had passed up. We wanted to revisit some stops where we had seen potential purchases, at that point still hoping we might go back and score a deal. Although we went all the way to the Black Creek Fire Department to find the bathrooms (just in case we needed them by then - seeing as it was the only hope of bathrooms we'd actually seen), once we walked in to what on the outside appeared to be a tiny little ho hum building with only one person sitting on a rocker out front and a couple guys grilling out back, there on the inside it reminded me of a small church fellowship hall from back in the day. We opened the door and the place was bustling with lots of folks buying food and drinks and eating at tables packed together to accommodate the masses as women lined up against the walls to have a turn at what appeared to be the one bathroom available, a line that snaked all the way around the inside of the room. That was enough to make mine and Cally's decision for us. We didn't need to go - it was agreed. We were fine. Really. Good thing, I didn't want to sacrifice that much of my quickly dwindling yard sale time partaking in the camaraderie of a long bathroom line. So we hopped back into our car and made tracks to the next set of vendors. 
The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Try to go on the first day before everything gets snapped up and while vendors have the most stuff from which to choose. Then if you see something you want, buy it right then while you can or put it out of your mind and move along to what lies ahead.

  • On our way back, one place I wanted to revisit was the set up under some trees on the side of the road of an older guy who had lots of interesting antique things, one of which was a large square weathered metal box with faded buttery paint on it. He was only asking $15, but being the cheapskate that I am with my general $5 limit per item, that felt high for me early in the day. His wife also had some wood folding chairs like I've been collecting, and he said she wanted $8 each (about $5 too much). When we came back by on our way through as we were leaving, he'd been wiped out of almost everything he'd had for sale earlier. The man with the one dresser we were considering for Cally had also sold much of what he had when we stopped by earlier. I'll tell you about him in the next installment.
  • If there are any one of a kind or special things at the sale that you think are to die for, buy them, right then. Most of the trendy stores in Homewood, AL wanted way more for items similar to those that one guy I'll tell you about next time was selling. And when I say the trendy stores want "way more", I'm talking as much as $100 more. There were so many fantastic things in the Homewood stores, but woo-wee! were some of them expensive! One store had a burlap pillow for $100. Sure it was cute...but $100 for a pillow...and made of burlap? Those stores made the expensive yard sale vendors look like dime (not dollar) stores in comparison.
The Road Less Traveled

Next time I would go to more of the sales down the side streets where individuals are actually having yard and garage sales. 

  • Many of the vendors in the lots on the main thoroughfare were dealers with their antiques and pricey items (often the same type of glassware and expensive signs that other vendors had). So many of those were not all that rare, and similar treasures might easily have been up for sale by an individual clearing out their garage or cleaning up their yard or storage area for a fraction of the price the dealers were asking. However, we could fit more stops in if we parked by a large group of vendors, got out and walked to a bunch of sales on the main road before getting back in the car to move along to the next set. Some of the side streets only had a sale or two at a time. You never knew what you might find anywhere! 

Speak Up and Ask!

  • In many of the places, the items were not priced, so after finding out how high some vendor's prices were, it was tempting to assume everything like those that I wanted would be out of my price range at the other vendors' sales as well. I almost passed up some old windows because I assumed they would be as expensive as they were at the guy's place next door. I ended up asking though, and this guy's prices were half that of his competitor's. Because of that I didn't try to talk him down further, which Cally reminded me, I may have gotten them cheaper. I was just glad to get them for cheaper than what I paid for one at home and half of what the guy next door was selling them for. I completely forgot to try and bargain with him. You have to stay on your toes and be on your best game! The longest yard sale is no place for bargain slackers. Gotta be thinking about your strategy every minute.

It seemed that most of the prices were higher than yard sales here where I live. Deals were still to be had though, and there were so many cool items, especially if you didn't mind paying flea market prices rather than garage sale prices. 

We were going fast, so I didn't take the time to really linger too long at any one place or take the time to soak everything in and really peruse all the cool items littered about. It takes time to scope everything out and relish the sights. Mind you, Cally has an eye for a different aesthetic than I, and she tends to turn her nose up at the old scrappy junk I could spend hours pouring over. I saved lots of money because of her response when I'd show her some remarkable old thing that I apparently (in her mind) have no use for. I really didn't buy too much. I spent $57.25 altogether which was plenty, but one of my items was significantly over my usual limit. It was something I'd wanted a long time and had only seen previously for two and three times as much as I got it for here, so I was happy with that. I also got the couple of windows I mentioned for $10 each. The few other things I got were each a dollar or less. The whole experience was lots of fun for the amount of ground we were able to cover in a day, and we made some memories for sure!

It was a day of entertainment, exercise and unequivocally good junk and good people. 

Next up I'll tell you about a couple more people I spoke to and show you a bit of the scenery (not sale related) that we saw which added to the experience as well as show you what I brought home with me!

I'll be sharing this with:

Too Much Time On My Hands

Tickled Pink at 504 Main


  1. Gosh, Liz, I am so green with envy. I always have wanted to go on a part of this sale. But I am not good in crowds of people. (I know that sounds psycho, but I was almost trampled in a crowd when I was eight.) We have a tiny version of that near here - just thirty or so miles. Much more manageable! Loved this post - you really brought the experience to life through your words and pictures!

    P.S. If NASA can put a truck on Mars, you can put one in your driveway!

  2. What an amazing experience! Your tips are all so helpful. I tend to stand back and feel embarrassed with haggling. You've explained so many things about the ins and outs of shopping at garage sales. I will be braver next time!
    Thanks for all your wonderful photos...what a huge event!
    Have a great weekend,

  3. Wow... lucky you to be able to attend!! Sounds like you two had lots of fun. Looking forward to the next post too! :)

  4. Loved seeing your end of the sale! You have a great way of telling the story, and that was good thinking to turn it into an "advice column." I used to be much more timid about bargaining, but I'm getting a bit braver as time goes by. At the sale where I bought the aqua pyrex dishes I overheard another lady bargaining pretty hard on the price of something and in the end he took it, so I knew he was willing to give in. When I asked him about the Pyrex I originally was holding only 2 pieces and he said $5 each. Then I came across a third piece that was dirty and not in as good of condition, so I asked him if he'd take $10 for all 3. He said, "How about $12?" I paused, then said, "How about $10?" And he took it!! I would have paid the $12, but it was fun bargaining for less and getting it. : )

  5. I am from the South, but moved away before this event got so huge. It stands to reason that prices would be higher considering the event is very popular and so many people travel 100s if not 1000s of miles.
    Glad you had a great time. I enjoyed reading about your adventure.

  6. Thank you for all the wonderful tips and tricks of the trade. I can't even imagine being able to see it all. I'd have to clone myself 100X and make a plan for each one of us. So much to see and so little time. I've heard that the prices are really high unless you stick to the "real" yard sales. Still want to experience this adventure one of these days.

  7. Looks exciting and fun. I have always wanted to do this.

  8. Hubs and I did the longest yard sale about 8 years ago! I love it, but never seem to have made it back. When we went it wasn't anywhere near as crowded or pricey! So glad you enjoyed yourself and maybe next year we will run in to each other! Thanks for sharing your creative inspiration with Sunday’s Best – you helped make the party a success!

  9. I've never heard of this before, but it looks like so much fun.

  10. LIZ DID U SAY ONE DAY??? NOOOOOO U DID NOT LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONE DAY!!2 MINIMUM GIRL;MAY I ADD A COUPLE OF DOS/DON'TS..PLEASE-O WELL ALL U CAN DO IS DELETE ME-1. LONGER-U GOTTA HV MIN 2 DAYS[IS THAT A REPEAT?] i decided to delete me and spare you lol.later-next summer we'll confer the week b 4 you leave-jh

  11. Gosh, I see a couple of things in your photos that I would like to check out! Darn.
    Hope you had a great time!

  12. Oh, I want to go one of the days! I enjoyed your pics. Looks like you had a great time. Your newest follower. :)

  13. Great tips!:) I would love to go to this one day. I will be heading to Round Top for the first time at the end of September and am already saving up. Thanx for coming to the party!

  14. I would love to attend that some day. Thanks for the great tips! I’m so glad you linked this up at One Creative Weekend! I love it! I’d love for you to join the party again tomorrow.

  15. From a fellow long-winded tweaker, thanks for linking up and for your kind comment at One Creative Weekend!

  16. It is fun but if the heat bothers you and humidity, take a cold wet wash cloth in a baggy in a cooler. Then when you do go back to the car, wipe yourself off and hope your deodorant works real well.
    I hadn't heard a thing about this sale until we went to Somerset, KY on vacation to a lake close by. Got to get a few things day we got there. I was so thrilled. Then the next year we went to a different location closer to where we lived north of Bowling Green, KY. Got to spend the afternoon and evening. Oh the bargains I found.
    That must have been about 2003 as we left KY in 2004. I'd so love to go again. I miss all the wonderful things I found in KY and TN. Had to leave some of things I'd purchased at 2nd. hand places in Bowling Green when we moved from KY. Had several old wood windows,(got for free) kills me to think of leaving them there along with some old doors. Miss our house and yard (1 1/2 acres) out in country. Too bad climate didn't agree with me, darn it.


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