Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The fine art of backyard bargains

Garage sale season is upon us: Here's how you can profit by turning trash into treasure

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It's not about the money. It's about making room in their closets.

On the first truly summery day of the year, five 20-something women bring passing traffic to a halt on a sleepy elm-shaded street in River Heights simply with the unwanted clothing they had up for grabs at a yard sale.

"It's funny; with one woman, her friend was driving, and before the car could stop, she actually had the door open and was trying to get out to buy something she saw from the street that she loved," says Tiana Chromiec, one of the women who hosted the sale.

While it helped them turn a pretty profit selling their surplus pretty little numbers -- including a Dolce and Gabbana dress -- Chromiec says the yard sale's genesis evolved more out of a need to get together for a little fun than a desire for cash.

"We all work in the fashion industry, so we've collected items from all over the place from a few years," she says. "The yard sale is really about making more room for more shopping."

The fashionista-themed bazaar is just one of dozens -- if not hundreds -- of garage sales taking place across Winnipeg during the next several weekends. They are a rite of summer in Canada, and while most are primarily motivated out a need to cut down on clutter, most people don't mind that they add a little girth to their wallets along the way.

According to the website Statistics Brain, about $4.2 million changes hands every week at about 165,000 garage sales in the U.S.

No similar data exist for Canada, but certainly many, many mini-deals are being brokered in front yards and garages on weekends across the country once the weather turns to fair from foul.

"I would say most people are doing it for money, because the ones that don't really care just give their stuff away," says Sandie King, the director of the Dugald Community Club.

For the town of about 800 people, a five-minute drive east of Winnipeg, garage sales are nearly a civic duty.

Each year, Dugald holds a town-wide garage sale at the end of May -- it's taking place today (Saturday) -- with about 60 families vending their cast-offs.

"A lot of times, four families will get together holding a sale in one yard," says King, adding the town even prepares maps to hand out to people denoting homes that are holding sales.

"A lot of people just wander around, but some actually do use the maps to check out each sale."

The sale started Friday evening and, in past years, it has attracted hundreds of people.

"We get traffic jams in our little town," she says. "That Friday night is crazy because we're on the way to the lake and we get a lot of that traffic."

Although people hosting garage sales generally have an expectation of turning a small profit, some garage-sale goers also look for prospective gains from the wares they purchase.

For some, garage-sale hopping is more than a pastime. It's a modest business venture.

Among them is Crystal Ross, a 30-something home-care worker in Tempe, Ariz. She professes on her blog -- crystalizeyourlife.com -- to being a "garage sale addict."

The daughter of a jewelry dealer, Ross learned at a young age about finding gems among junk. But until recently, garage sales were purely a hobby.

"I started getting serious about it six months ago," Ross says. "I love garage sales because I like the hunt, finding a treasure, something that is worth something."

Among her more recent purchases she has parlayed into a substantial return on investment were crafter stamps sets.

"I bought 17 sets for $20, and I've already sold three of them for $80 combined on eBay," she says.

"They were all new, but I weaselled the price down -- I'm a weasel."

Aside from channelling your inner predatory rodent, the key to making a buck -- either as garage-sale host or buyer -- is knowledge.

Ross says she uses smartphone apps -- such as eBay -- to price out items that might be worth more than their yard-sale price tag.

"I only buy stuff that I'm 100 per cent sure about," she says. "Find your niche; buy what you know."

Then again, the joy of finding garage-sale booty is about more than turning a profit on someone else's junk.

After all, one woman's discarded designer wear can just as easily be another's beloved cute and fun cocktail dress.

giganticsmile@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 B11

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