50 Mile Garage Sale

I recently read that barn sales in Virginia are the places to shop for home décor, particularly one-of-a-kind antique accessories and furniture. “Think of them as upscale tag sales or cool shops without the storefronts,” said an article in The Washington Post. They’re not only about getting great deals, said the story, “they’re about finding something that’s been re-visioned, reclaimed and re-purposed or just brought back to life.”

Well, Virginia can keep its fancy barns and distressed/shabby chic/cottage/French country/la-la stuff. Here in the Finger Lakes we have the 50-mile Garage Sale, now in its 23rd year. Each summer during the last weekend of July, treasure hunters can find everything from vintage porch gliders to half-consumed kegs of Heineken. Held on Scenic Byway Route 90 along Cayuga Lake, the sale is a chaotic delight for hundreds of garage sale adventurers. People travel here from as far away as Canada, New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio in search of a good deal.

Why we went
How could I resist? My neighbor Gail and I have been shopping consignment shops, antique shows, tag, household and garage sales together for 16 years. We scour them for mission furniture, “pretty dishes,” Graniteware, pottery, shoes and purses (a Gail specialty). If it’s not a bargain, we don’t want it.

We often present our finds as gifts, mostly to each other. Each Christmas we vow we’re going to stop, but shopping for cool bargains has become our hobby. We need to have a garage sale of our own to make room to collect more.

On Saturday morning, July 24, we left at 7 a.m. from our homes in Canandaigua, and traveled routes 5 & 20 through Geneva, Waterloo and Seneca Falls. We hopped onto route 90 at Montezuma. There we were: two 50-mile garage sale virgins, our hearts filled with optimism and our pockets stuffed with small bills and change. Many hours later, not even halfway through the route, we called it a day. We had battled traffic, heat, humidity and the threat of a storm for a car trunk full of loot. We were so bedraggled we worried that the Aurora Inn would turn us away.

What we saw
If you’re in the market for a used boat, car or motorcycle, the 50-mile Garage Sale is for you. The same holds true if you’re looking for children’s colorful outdoor plastic play sets. Big items are easy to spot from the road; you won’t have to stop at every place to look through often unorganized, miscellaneous piles of stuff to find, for instance, two wonderful old potato mashers with painted wood handles (worth the dig at 50 cents apiece).

“Digging” was the worst-case scenario. It slowed us down and discouraged us from making a purchase. A certain amount of sorting through junk to find a treasure is expected of course – it is a garage sale. In our opinion, though, there were too many unappealing boxes that had probably been pulled from barns and simply placed in the yard. They held a variety of stuff – maybe paperback books together with mismatched knobs and drawer pulls and a stack of round tablecloths under an inch of grime, the whole package overpriced at $10. Sellers have a better chance of unloading things if they are at least dusted off and presented separately.

The best-case scenario included tables of items with price stickers, and happy, smiling people willing to make a sale. Negotiating a price was key – if the seller didn’t budge, we walked away. We figure the lady with all the Pyrex casserole dishes and lids will have them for sale again this summer.

There were stretches of road with no garage sales. Other stretches featured whole neighborhoods of sales on both sides of the road. We found it best to park the car and walk from one sale to the other, which worked if we didn’t buy anything big. When Gail scored a three-piece wooden children’s kitchen set for $30 we hiked back to get the car, then couldn’t remember which house had the kitchen set (we eventually found it).

Getting to the homes, yards and garages on the lake side of the road could be treacherous. Many were down short but steep slopes. No frou-frou sandals ladies – better to wear socks and sneakers or something that won’t slide out from under you as you negotiate hills and boggy yards.

That’s just one of the many lessons about the 50-mile Garage Sale we learned the hard way. Here are some other tips to help you not only navigate the sale, but enjoy it

  1. Bring a cooler with more bottles of water than you’ll think you need.
  1. Ditto antibacterial wipes.
  1. Fortify yourself with a good breakfast, and don’t forget nonperishable snacks.
  1. Pack a basket or carton with garage-sale necessities:
  • An old blanket plus a few stacks of newspapers or tissue paper to wrap the furniture or breakables you purchase
  • Bungee cords and rope
  • A magnifying glass and a tape measure
  • A large, sturdy shopping bag.
  1. Go early for your choice of the best items. The Cayuga County Office of Tourism says the official hours of the 50-mile Garage Sale are “dawn to dusk” on Saturday and Sunday, but some folks start selling on Friday.
  1. For the best bargains, go late in the day.
  1. Create a list of things to look for. I needed a lampshade for an old lamp I had received as a gift, and found the perfect one for 75 cents.
  1. You don’t have to stick to the list. If you like to decorate and collect, trust your eye. I am very happy with the seven old metal toolboxes I purchased that day. The most expensive was $4. I recently saw a dome-lidded industrial lunch pail for $20 on www.funkomavintage.com, similar to the one I purchased for $2.
  1. Bring lots of change and small bills. Some sellers will not accept checks and very few people will have change for a $20 when your purchase total is $1.
  1. Upstate New York weather is unpredictable. If you bring an umbrella, it won’t rain. If you bring sunscreen, it will be overcast. If you don’t have a sweatshirt in the car, you’ll need one. The moral of the story is bring it all.
  1. If you buy something electric, make sure it works by asking the seller to plug it in for you.
  1. If a seller won’t haggle on the price, give him your name and phone number in case the item doesn’t sell.
  1. Be careful getting out of your car – lots of traffic on the driver’s side, and roadside brush on the passenger side may disguise a ditch or drop-off.
  1. Be polite. The people who are hosting the garage sale are glad you’re there. Many of them have been collecting items to sell all year.


The 50-mile Garage Sale

Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31, 2011
Dawn ’til dusk
Route 90, Montezuma to Homer
Call 315-255-1658 for more information


by Tina Manzer