Advice on tackling the world’s longest yard sale

Aug 5, 2015 at 2:50 pm

What’s 690 miles long, lasts four days, and draws collectors and thrifters from all over the country? It’s the “World’s Longest Yard Sale,” which starts tomorrow.

There are actually several contenders for “the world’s longest yard sale,” including Ohio’s 241-mile Lincoln Highway Buy-Way, the 400-mile sale in Kentucky, Appalachia’s 502-mile U.S. 11 Antique Alley, and the 824-mile U.S. 40 Yard Sale that stretches from Baltimore to St. Louis. But the Highway 127 Yard Sale, stretching from Michigan to Georgia, is the Big Kahuna of community garage sales: Well-publicized, widely participated in, and snaking through some historic country, with everything from ephemera to cars and boats.

But there's a learning curve with this sale. Here's our advice.

Individual homes can be crapshoots. As we advised in a previous piece on “garage sailing,” your best bets are estate sales disguised as garage sales. If that sounds unlikely, several years ago our group happened upon a historic old home that was unloading what seemed like the entire collection of a deceased relative. (Our score: A Repro-Disc record a GI sent home from Hawaii to his sweetheart.)

Similarly, church sales, community sales, and other places where people pool their belongings provide more choices. Because, unless you have a new toddler at home, you will find that about half the home sales are trying to unload the toys, clothes, and playscapes their children have outgrown. You’ll soon learn to sight these sales at a distance due to the bright primary colors of the wares.

There are some remarkable places you can find by following signs in small towns. There are some places that are just perfect for the sale that are right off the beaten path. Why should a warehouse filled with tons of vintage 78 RPM records operate a stand on the highway? Just follow the signs and you’ll find things you never imagined lurked under the seemly surface of the Midwest.

If you start on Friday or Saturday, chances are some of the better stuff has been snapped up by the pros who pursue the circuit as soon as it opens, and much of the stuff that does remain will be overpriced. (There’s no reason to buy a Faygo case for $75 unless you simply have too much money.) But latecomers may find deals on the sale’s last day, when sellers finally realize what their wares are worth.

Smartphones are a handy tool if you’re wondering just how much that 1939 issue of Action Comics is worth (and whether it’s the 1988 reprint). Finding a documented price with your phone may even make a good tool for haggling, should it come to that.

Another nice thing about the sale is that prevailing attitudes about Detroit are a boon for Detroitophiles. It's not a knock on people outstate or in the Middle West, but they do not often have fond connections to our fair city. Which means you can find great deals on Detroit stuff the farther away you go. We once picked up a drinking glass decorated with Detroit automakers for 40 cents!

But the best part of the garage sale is being exposed to the unusual wares, and the unusual people who collect them. One of the members of our group bought a French Solex bicycle from a guy who brought us into his garage and showed us his collection of antique payphones. Another house we toured had a collection of organs, one to every room. Some of the people involved are absolutely nuts about one thing or another, and that can be more than half the fun.