Kevin and Cathie were about to move, needed some cash to pay for it and had lots of junk to get rid of. The answer was obvious: Hold a garage sale.
They persuaded neighbors and a few friends to go in with them just to beef up the inventory, stuck a few discreet signs on street corners one Friday evening and arose early the next day to become part of one of America's favorite weekend pastimes.
By 9 a.m., their street was lined with cars.
First to get there were the "professionals," those who cruise the garage sale scene and grab the best bargains. This group has found a sure-fire way to fight inflation. Later in the day, there were the casual drive-bys, plus an occasional friend who just stopped to talk. Most who came bought something.
It wasn't the sort of competition to drive out a K mart or a Bullocks, but added into all the other garages-turned-discount-house across the country, their modest success becomes a significant factor in the economy.
Plenty of Spirit
Mostly it just proves that there's plenty of entrepreneurial spirit around and a little of the huckster in a lot of us.
One participant in the sale warmed things up with the old "attention shoppers, red light special" routine. "This set of chairs, normally $5 each, now two for $5. Only while the light flashes."
Of course, no light flashed. But the chairs sold, for $3. So did an old desk not quite stripped of its cobwebs, for $2; a nice wall mirror, for $5; a black and white television with lots of hours on the picture tube, for $20; plus an assortment of wearing apparel that went for as little as 50 cents an item.
Almost anything will sell at one of these events. There was a pair of overshoes, just the thing for California's wet summers. They were offered for $1 and went for 10 cents. As somebody said, "At least they went."
Then there was that TV set with the missing cord. One buyer plunked down $20, thought better of it and shook the set.
"It rattles," he said.
"It didn't before you shook it," he was told.
No matter, he got his money back and somebody else bought the set, for $15.
Another customer, the back of his truck already full of junk, bought five overhead garage door springs. They wouldn't fit his garage, he said, but he couldn't pass them up at $2 for the lot.
One fellow, obviously a veteran of such events, wandered through offering $1 for everything he saw, even an antique-looking table priced at $50. He didn't get the table, but he parted with a lot of one dollar bills.
The psychology of the garage sale trade is interesting. Items marked "best offer" generally sold the slowest. Apparently shoppers shy from being first to name a price. Yet tell them the item is worth $20 and they'll readily offer $5.
The bartering is half the fun, until a relative stops by and discovers that an expensive Christmas gift from last year just went for $3.
There are those who consider garage sales serious business, both as sellers and buyers.
But for the run-of-the-mill sale, the profits don't match the long hours.
Cathie and Kevin came away with $200 for their moving costs--and less to move--but Shelley, who offered to stock the refrigerator with beer for the day, wound up with a small deficit.
And another friend bought about as much junk as she brought to sell. Now she'll have to have a garage sale.
The point is it was fun, which is a good part of what a little entrepreneurial spirit is all about.
More businesses should take themselves less seriously, have fun doing what they do and remember that happy customers come before profits.
The role of the garage sale is, nonetheless, pivotal. Those fancy full-price shops on the boulevard had better be thankful. It's the American consumer's way of making some room around the house to buy more.