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December File / Seen

Going the Extra Yard

Designer castoffs are a steal at the next generation of garage sales--and it's all for a good cause

December 09, 2007|Alexandria Abramian-Mott

After surveying the yard of design writer Ruth Handel's Gregory Ain-designed house in Mar Vista, it was clear that this was no ordinary garage sale for dormant Nordic Tracks and obsolete Epsons. Instead, on an early fall afternoon, Handel and her friend, performance artist Johanna Went, were hawking their stashes of Noritake dinnerware, Bauer pottery and Armani suits. Furniture dealers such as Rich Carmichael of Silver Lake's From the Hip snapped up $30 Regency-style lacquered end tables and other steals, while the banker, Handel's mom, Berta, collected about $1,000--all of which went to LARC Ranch, a Saugus home for developmentally disabled adults where Handel's brother lives.

Call it the most sociable excuse for a benefit since the $250-a-plate dinner. The once-bourgeois garage sale has gone upscale and charitable as urbanites across town are increasingly clearing out their out-of-rotation designer goods for philanthropy's sake.

"I'm a compulsive garage sale buyer," says Handel, whose husband Lloyd Scott, an exec in Microsoft's media and entertainment group, also worked the lawn. "This was a way to combine my love of stuff with my passion for supporting my brother's home."

According to Culver City accountant Michael Arena, who specializes in tax returns for entertainment industry clients, the end of the year is prime season for altruistic selling. He adds that turning unused goods into cold, hard greenbacks is a "cleaner transaction" than scheduling a Goodwill pickup: "The IRS is really starting to scrutinize donated goods and non-cash donations in terms of stated value, but a cash donation is 100% deductible."

One man's write-off is another man's treasure, especially when it comes to the lawn blowouts at Tracey Ross' West Hollywood home. In the summer, the owner of the eponymous Sunset Plaza fashion boutique held a sale of her own idle Balenciaga, Chloe and Tom Ford-era Gucci wares, inviting friends, clients and other allies on her e-mail blast. (A few years ago, Ross' sale was also advertised anonymously on Craigslist, but she's since stopped listing on the classifieds website.)

"I thought it'd be a good idea, instead of the stuff just sitting like sculptures in my closet," says Ross, who channels a percentage of proceeds to Chrysalis, which helps the disadvantaged and homeless find jobs. "It's just for people who know me like Kimberly Stewart. The stuff sells out immediately."

Even tots can get in on the sale action. For the last two years, Jorge Romero, a producer/editor, and his wife Laura, a teacher, have invited friends and family to unload castoff designer strollers, baby bedding and Fisher-Price toys for an annual event at their Culver City house. The couple always hangs a sign that reads "All proceeds go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation" in honor of their 6-year-old daughter's afflicted friend. "We wanted to give more than just $100 to the cause," says Laura, who's raised about $500 each time. "I also wanted to involve friends without directly asking them for money. . . . Everyone has too much of this stuff. I wanted it to be a win-win solution."

But does a charitable hook make notoriously penny-pinching garage sale-goers any more, well, charitable? Depends on who you ask.

Handel says, "So many people would pull out $10 or $20 or just 50 cents to add to the price. They were genuinely interested in LARC." Laura Romero, however, didn't have quite the same experience: "We get the same people who nickel and dime us every year. If I say something is 50 cents, they say, 'How about a quarter?' That's the nature of a yard sale."


Want the goods above? If you don't luck out at a yard sale, try these shops.

Stella McCartney sweater

Entre Nous, 8430 W. 3rd St., (323) 655-9096

Gucci boots

The Way We Wore, 334 S. La Brea Ave., (323) 937-0878

Noritake dinnerware

Retropia, 1443 N. Highland Ave., (323) 871-4000

Bauer vase

Freehand, 8413 W. 3rd St., (323) 655-2607

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