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Garage-sale green: Recycling for a profit

Stored under In the News on June 7, 2007 at 8:33 AM
ST. LOUIS - John Jennings arrived early, sporting a ball cap that read "Senior Citizen: Gimme a Damn Discount." He wouldn't need that bargaining chip. After a half hour of scouring a yard sale on Hummel Avenue in southwest St. Louis, Jennings departed with a cute - his adjective - little tea set.

The $2 price tag seemed more than fair.

"Well, you have to buy something," Jennings said of the set destined for his granddaughter. "Why stop and look at a yard full of merchandise, then walk away with nothing?"

Jennings, a retired warehouseman and regular garage-sale visitor, is part of an army of bargain hunters who frequent the makeshift markets that pop up during the warmer months. In an age of Internet commerce, these old-fashioned, face-to-face transactions are holding their own against online auction sites such as eBay.

"All the eBay-ers are out there looking for finds, so that has really magnified things," says Bruce Littlefield, author of the new book "Garage Sale America." There are roughly 500 million garage sales a year across the country, he says, with an estimated $3 billion (in small bills) changing hands. Also coming into play: an increased awareness of reusable resources.

"Garage saling is the greenest thing you can do," Littlefield says. "It's the ultimate in recycling."

Recycling is just a trendier term for "getting rid of all of this extra stuff," which is how Gloria Barber and daughters-in-law Jen and Natalie described their mission on Hummel Avenue.

The three combined their clutter at Jen's place, where eclectic merchandise filled the yard, the garage and spilled into the driveway: Tupperware bowls stacked beside a trampoline; a New Kids on the Block video; vinyl pressings of polka king Frankie Yankovic; a wedding dress (worn once?); a Christmas tree; a salsa and chips dish in the shape of a sombrero that played "The Mexican Hat Dance" at the push of a button; a barber's chair.

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