Sure sign of spring: My friend Susan logging collector orders.
Sue (she prefers to remain incognito for professional and tax reasons) is a garage-sale mama. Last March, she scored a mint-julep glass for 10 cents on 25th Street NW in Canton, Ohio. It had “Kentucky Derby 1950” on it. She jawboned the price down from a quarter.
A week later, she sold it for $258 on eBay. Be still my heart.
Everybody’s got a friend who got rich for a few minutes at a garage sale. It powers the biggest retail extravaganza in town. So does TV, the great bottom fisher of culture. Those trash-to-treasure frenzies — “Pawn Stars” and the cajun version, “American Pickers” and “Auction Hunters” — send us into the streets panning for gold.
Counting classified ads, I figure we’ll have about 150 garage sales per week starting next month when the sun shines. (love that name) counts 165,000 per week nationally attracting 700,000 customers.
Sue has become a professional picker, hired by collectors too preoccupied to scamper around dozens of garage sales. She has lead lists of stuff they want. They pay a commission for her time.
She loves to talk about the sorcery of garage selling.
“Everything you’ve ever thought about value, usefulness and style — stow it. The deal is how much will somebody pay to own this stuff. Period.”
Everything amateurs thought would go fast and high goes slow and low. Items they think are total crapola sell first and big, but they miss that real money. Big goes to people who know the market.
Who cares about vinyl records? Sue does.
“Most people don’t even bother to put them out. I always ask,” she says. Here’s the weird thing:
“My collectors don’t want the records. They want the covers. They frame them and nail them to the walls.”
Sue buys vinyls for 50 cents (or less) and resells for $2.50 (or much more). But she has an eye out for bigger scores.
“Any one-hit wonder or the Beatles, The Who and anything by somebody who recently died — good stuff.”
Her most unusual score was a box of WWII French Army rations, unopened. Those guys really ate: Fondue, three types of candy, canned fillets of everything and béchamel noodles. Bought for $2, resold to a military collector that afternoon for $47.
Sue insists a cute dog welcoming customers on the drive opens wallets.
“Dogs make buyers happy. Happy is huge in this business.”
Her unfavorite items: Toys. “People are convinced anything older than 25 years is priceless. Hardly so.”
And sports memorabilia.
“The card bubble is pretty much over. The signed stuff? I read where 75 percent of it is fake. Same with Civil War antiques. I don’t go there.”
But she bites on every rusty cookie cutter, enamel pan, action-figure school lunch box, Roy Rogers anything and stuff with advertising on it.
So you see, at any one time, junk flows like waves through our economy, rushing out and like the tide, always flowing back somewhere else. And then one day when you least expect it, your Beatles Blue Box album fetches $600 on eBay. That is, if you did not sell it to the garage-sale mama for three green the day before.
Jim Hillibish is a columnist at The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Reach him at