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State's garage sale reels in buyers aplenty

August 29, 2009|Michael Rothfeld

SACRAMENTO — Unemployment in California is high, which could partly explain why thousands of people had time to line up on a Friday morning to go shopping. Another possibility was the allure of a bargain, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration launched the Great California Garage Sale to unload some unneeded items, cheap.

The governor toured the site Friday morning before flying east for the funeral of his wife's uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). The shoppers had waited in the pre-dawn outside the Sacramento-area warehouse.

Erin Shaw, a spokeswoman for the State and Consumer Services Agency, said the state had sold more than $1 million in items by the afternoon. Several hundred cars, some laptop and desktop computers and a dental chair were still available, although the flat-screen televisions were gone. The sale ends at noon today.

Schwarzenegger promoted the sale as a way to help the state balance its budget, which was more than $20 billion in the red until he reached a deal with lawmakers last month to cut many government programs.

The state has been selling some items on EBay and Craigslist since last week. On Friday, the governor listed another item -- an autographed State of California jacket -- with a starting bid of $1,000 on EBay.

But the president of a Los Angeles auction business specializing in EBay sales said the state's foray into online auctions was much like many of its other programs: lackluster.

Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, a celebrity auction house, said the state's ads were so poorly done that "they are leaving a lot of money on the table."

"A 12-year-old could have taken better pictures of jewelry and cars," said Gazin, who once helped Schwarzenegger and Texas Gov. Rick Perry auction some boots on EBay for charity. He said the state likely lost some buyers by refusing to ship cars, and violated EBay policy by referring customers to its own website, where it advertised other merchandise.

Shaw said in a statement that state workers are "not specially trained in listing EBay items, so we are very pleased with the tremendous positive response we've received."

Usher Lieberman, an EBay spokesman, said referring customers to a sale off the site is indeed a policy violation, but "we're sensitive to the position the state finds itself in, and we're happy to be helping them to raise the profiles of some items that they have for sale."


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