Up with the early birds
A look at Durango's yard sale culture

A multicolored yard sale sign in the yard of Becky and Jay Shipps, on West Second Avenue, beckons garage salers Saturday morning./Photo by Todd Newcomer

Looking for that special gift for the guy who has everything? How about something for that hard-to-shop-for mother-in-law? The solution may be may be right under your nose – or at least buried in your neighbor’s garage.

Despite a recent clamping down on violators of the city’s yard sale sign ordinance – which requires a permit for posting a sign anywhere other than your own yard – the business of do-it-yourself junque retail is thriving locally.

Last Saturday morning found Durango bustling with easily more than two dozen yard sales, garage sales, tag sales or whatever name the purveyor bestowed upon the event. On lawns and in garages across town, fervent shoppers eagerly descended, snapping up and haggling over everything from used lipstick to Neil Diamond 8-tracks.

Jay Shipp’s treasured but forgotten Honda 65
waits for an offer./Photos by Todd Newcomer.

And as any yard sale host can tell you, the things people buy never ceases to amaze.

“The things you think will go quick are still here, and the things you think wouldn’t sell were the first to go,” says Becky Shipps, as she turns excitedly to her cohorts to tell them of a recent sale. “We just sold the bride doll,” she said, as a woman walks off with a 3-foot doll dressed in a frilly mini bridal gown.

Shipps was holding a sale on West Second with her husband, Jay; her daughter, Sarah; and her friend, Tobey Ellis.

What’s even more surprising, says Ellis, is that she hung on to such things for so long.

“It’s amazing the things you keep around – absolutely amazing,” says Ellis.

Among the astounding items Ellis and the Shipps have lugged around are an old vinyl club chair (free) and a 1960s-era Honda 65 motorbike (make an offer).

Curiously enough, this is not the first yard sale action the chair has seen.

“We bought it at a garage sale when we moved here 25 years ago,” says Jay. “It belonged to an old lady across the street.”

He also lays claim to the motorbike, which he admits will be harder to part with than the chair.

“I was 15 years old when I got it,” he says, more than a little wistfully. “It was the very first thing I ever bought.”

And while the emotional tie is tight, Jay says he simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to fix it up.

What’s your shade? Lipstick is just
one of the many items awaiting
Saturday morning bargain
hunters./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

“I just don’t have time to do anything with it,” he says, pointing out the rusted drive train. “I imagine it would run; it wouldn’t take much.”

And then as if to stave off any seller’s remorse, he pipes in, “Besides, I got my Harley in the garage.”

Ellis and the Shipps said the most popular items of the day are books, books on tape, cross country skis and frames.

“Gilded, ornate ones,” says Becky, using her hands to exaggerate the various sizes and shapes.

Several blocks away on the south side of town, Kim and Bill Lynch have found that kids’ stuff has been the hot ticket.

“Everyone wanted the swimming pool, which wasn’t for sale,” says Kim, motioning toward an elaborate blow-up kiddie pool in the front yard. “I keep telling people they can go to Wal-Mart and get one for $35. I feel like a spokesman for the store.”

Among the for-sale items at the Lynches are a “Pink Panther” suit, top-coat included, and the unofficial Brad Pitt biography. One item that was given a last-minute pardon from the sale table was an accordion, given to their son when he was 6.

“I told him I’d buy it from him for $6,” says Bill. “He owes me $8, so now he only owes me $2.”

Bill says he didn’t get much of a fight, perhaps because he’s the father, but more likely because – just as in love and war – all is fair in garage sale-ing.

“Everyone bargains, it’s kind of fun because it’s the only time you can do it,” says Becky Shipps.

And while no diehard saler would think twice about haggling over a nickel, Kim Lynch says the toughest customers come in the smallest packages.

“Kids are the real hagglers,” she says.

However, at least one hostess says she likes to skip the haggling and get down to business.

“I purposely mark my prices so low so I don’t have to haggle,” says East Third resident Liz Harper.

Even though no one would argue that the spirit is all in fun, make no mistake: There are those who take their garage saleing very seriously.

Zophie, one of Carolyn Smith’s three poodles patiently, waits while his master peruses a sale on East third

“There are definite styles,” said one anonymous reforming garage sale-aholic. “There’s the pushy and aggressive types who get there before it opens, and then there’s the polite ones.

“It’s a whole scene out there,” she said referring to the more cutthroat of shoppers. “Most of those people shop to put stuff in stores and make money.”

Indeed, by 6:30 a.m. (the sale didn’t start until 7), one well-known proprietor of a used-goods store had already come and gone, say the folks at the West Second sale.

“There was a little rush at six,” says Becky. “I was out here in my pajamas making my first sale.”

And although they may be caught unawares, none of the sale holders seemed to mind what’s known in the biz as “early birds” – saying it’s all just part of the package.

“You always get them; it’s all right,” says Harper, who says she holds a sale every other year. “It’s not bothersome,” she adds, before abruptly switching gears to hawk her wares. “That TV works fine,” she calls to an elderly man.

The Lynches also were visited by an early bird with a precise agenda.

“We had a guy come at 6:30, but all he bought was anything he could find on the military,” says Kim.

Carolyn Smith, a downtown resident and East Third garage sale patron, explains the phenomenon.

“If they say they’re opening at 8, they’re really opening at 7,” she says.

Smith says of the two camps, she falls into the latter, preferring to shop at her leisure while walking her three toy white poodles.

“Every other week I go to the sales,” she says. “I only go where I can walk – the dogs absolutely love to shop.”

Gloria Crites peruses the clothes rack at the
Lynch yard sale Saturday morning. A
weekly regular on the garage sale circuit,
Gloria refers to her outings as “goin’
junkin’.”/Photos by Todd Newcomer.

And if the early morning hours are a seller’s market, they quickly give way to a buyer’s market.

“We’ve already gone through and repriced everything,” said Sarah Shipp, as the clock approaches 10 o’clock, near quittin’ time in garage sale terms. “It gets to that point.”

Nevertheless, they’ll all hang on till at least noon, lured by the promise of big money, a lighter load and a less cluttered garage.

“We made $2,500 off a sale in California,” said Jay Shipp.

And besides, they’re having fun.

“We’re getting to see a lot of people, neighbors are stopping by to say hi,” says Becky.

And what of the stuff that doesn’t sell? Has the whole experience been fun enough to consider doing it again?

The answer is an unequivocal no, phrased perhaps most succinctly by Kim Lynch: “If this stuff isn’t gone, I’m taking it to the thrift store.”







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