Shelly Bruette was setting up the inventory at her first-ever rummage sale when a customer found his mark.
"I had an old sewing machine with the folding table," said Bruette, 33, of Appleton. "I had it priced at $10. He offered five; I sold it for seven."
So even rummaging -- that time-honored pastime of the bargain-hunting faithful -- has become a competitive sport in the age of eBay.
The tires on the bike owned by Chris Hoffman for the past five years show no signs of wear. "Make an offer!" its price tag begged.
"I'm looking for one with the bigger (off-road) tires, said Hoffman, 40, of Grand Chute. Hoffman is a veteran of the rough-and-tumble world of the garage sale, that means to riches or key to unloading unwanted junk.
Hoffman said the vultures begin circling each morning 30 to 45 minutes before the rummage sales begin. To them, the pursuit of the deal overwhelms the innocence of this most casual exchange of greetings and goods.
"If something's two bucks and you sell it for a quarter, then they'll turn around and sell it in their own sale," Hoffman said Friday. "That's just the nature of the beast."
It's the season for garage sale stories as well as all the wheeling and wheedling. dealing and dabbling in bargainspotting.
From the savviest antique dealer to the casual buyer, everyone loves to hear about the "one that didn't get away."
Here are five stories that will entertain, and if you’re a garage saler, inspire. Plus, I get to tell my own best story:
In the era shortly before e Bay, I was about 10th in line at a church rummage sale. A few people behind me was a really aggressive competitor.
Then I spotted a treasure on a bookshelf inside a fenced area: "The Adventures of Superman," the first hardcover novel based on a comic book superhero. Published in 1942, four years after the icon-to-be debuted in the comics, the book was complete with four gorgeous color plates illustrated by co-creator Joe Shuster. What made this copy worth nearly $1,000 was the rare dust jacket - in near-new condition!
Three elderly women were right behind me in line. I knew that not even my voracious competitor, if he had indeed spotted the same book, would dare to knock these women aside (though I was wrong). I, too, was delayed by two slow-moving people in front of me, but I scrambled to the bookshelf as quickly as I could, grabbing the book and holding it close. I heard him five seconds behind me, uttering an obscenity because he could not possibly grab the treasured tome or steal it away from me.
By April Amadonemail@example.com Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Fifty cents for an old baseball jersey, 10 cents each for a set of plates.
Just because some of the items sold at garage sales seem cheap doesn’t mean holding a sale isn’t a profitable venture.
On Thursday, the first day of their garage sale, Dion and Julie Pender of Lincoln Avenue Extension took in almost $1,300.
It was the biggest one-day haul ever for the couple, who hold garage sales every year.
This year, the Penders were moving, so they had a lot to get rid of.
"We had some more bigger-ticket things," Dion said. “We had a couch and a loveseat, a computer desk, we got rid of that.”
As the weather gets warmer and people are doing their annual spring cleaning, garage sale season is just beginning.
The Web site www.about.com advises anyone planning a garage sale to start early, as much as a month in advance, going through closets, setting aside anything sellable and saving grocery bags.
Proper signage is always important. The Penders put up neon yellow signs around surrounding neighborhoods, with big black letters that were visible to drivers.
Rita Lasal, who set up a sale in her Rapids Road garage on Friday, said advertising in the classifieds helps.
There’s no real science to pricing items, other than to keep in mind that buyers like to haggle.
"It’s amazing how much people will try to bump you down on stuff," Dion said. "If you really want $20 for something, you might want to put $22 on it."
Thursdays and Fridays are the best days, Julie said. Though they planned for the whole weekend, most of their best stuff was gone by Friday morning.
The area's largest garage sale, held every two years by the Browncroft Neighborhood Association, returns this weekend for scroungers and savers.
"We expect more than 200 sales in a square mile," says Sharon Bloemendaal, in charge of publicity for the 2007 Biennial Browncroft Garage Sale. Quentin Road alone, she notes, has sales at 11 of its 24 houses. One year, "I counted 20 people in my front yard at one time," says Bloemendaal.
Items being sold at each sale - and which days each home will be having a sale - are listed in advance on the neighborhood association's Web site. Some sales start as early as Friday.
The Browncroft sale is as busy as the Corn Hill Arts Festival, says Bloemendaal, but this sale offers affordable, pre-owned treasures. "People plan trips from hundreds of miles away to coincide with this event."
Bloemendaal, for instance, is selling loads of fabric and a circa-1860s melodeon (like a pump organ). Other items for sale include antique dressers, lawn equipment, costume jewelry, baby furniture and equipment, tapes of old radio programs and musical instruments.
Park your car outside the neighborhood, then bring your strollers or bikes for easier movement, advises Bloemendaal. Want an item that's too unwieldy? Put a deposit on it, she says, and come back for it later. Since the initial sale in 1981, some folks have also admired the flowering cherry and forsythia, and the 1920s elegant homes. Many also enjoy the festive atmosphere.
"It's a happening, a fair, a festival - celebrating the hunt for treasures," says Bloemendaal, "and it's a lovely neighborhood for a walk."