For most people, summer time means sandals and cargo shorts, family backyard barbecues, county fairs, and a much needed day-trip to the public cesspool that is the nearest water park.
But for the penny pinching conservatives like myself, summer time also means the start of something better: Garage Sale Season, the time of year when poorly worded and sometimes misspelled garage and yard sale signs hang on telephone poles for days, even weeks at a time. 'Tis the season for connoisseurs of all things used and useless to find the treasures they've long been searching for – a slightly faded and torn lawn chair with authentic rust on the side, perhaps; or a fishing clown figurine to add to their collection of tacky ceramic nick-knacks, and a stockpile of worn VHS tapes (never mind they can't find a VCR anywhere, a box of 50 video cassettes for $10 is too good a bargain to pass up).
And from a seller's standpoint, garage sales yield just as much benefit. Each sale is an opportunity for them to free up some space in the garage – because there's a little Oscar Madison in every Felix Unger – and in the process, maybe they can make a few bucks by turning their crap into other peoples' crap. With a little wheeling and dealing, they might even make back some of the money they spent on their embarrassingly large collection of Beanie Babies (which were purchased from another garage sale in late '90s). Naturally, Warren Buffet didn't get rich off yard sales, but who's to say a little money here and little there won't add up? An at-home pasta maker used only once eight years ago: $10. An aluminum baseball bat their kid used to hit rocks in the back yard: $2... no, $2.50. A game of Hungry Hungry Hippos with only four plastic marbles and a green hippo with a broken jaw: $1. And that 25-year-old color television still in “good working condition” ... make an offer. It's the very definition of a “win-win.”
On second thought, maybe garage sales aren't the best place to find that aforementioned “treasure.” But that's not to say there haven't been occasions of someone finding a diamond in the rough, so to speak, and those occasional success stories are enough to keep searching. Just this month, a woman purchased a $10 jewelry box from a garage sale in Los Angeles and inside it, she found a $23,000 diamond ring. In this case, the woman returned the ring which had accidentally been left inside the box (hurray for good samaritans), but the find is incredible nevertheless.
Things worked out a little differently for a New York family that spent a few measly bucks on a 1,000-year-old bowl that once belonged to a former Chinese dynasty. The bowl fetched a total $2.2 million at an auction earlier this year – money that was kept by the family, as would be expected.
One more to add to the list of garage sale “finders-keepers,” a traveling business man in Vegas bought an original sketch of 1930s singer Rudy Vallee last year at a garage sale near his hotel. He later found the sketch was from the hand of none other than Andy Warhol, famed 20th century Pop artist. Appraisers value the work at more than $2 million.
Admittedly, if I spend my summer rummaging every garage sale between Norwich and the Canadian boarder, I don't expect to find anything worth more than what I paid for it (twenty-five cents for a classic recording of Bryan Adams' greatest hits? Yeah, that sounds about right). It's hard to ignore the fact that there's only one letter that separates a garage sale from a “garbage” sale. But then again, they say chances of winning the lottery are one in 175 million, yet people still buy lottery tickets. The occasional garage sale success story is just enough to keep the dream alive, and apparently it works. After all, have you ever met someone who has never been to a garage sale? Of course not. And if someone tells you otherwise, that person is a liar.
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