EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 126 - September 12, 2004 - ISSN 1528-6703     6 of 7

Collector's Corner: Rummage Sale of the Rich

By David Hakala

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Some impromptu community events become enduring legends. Examples include the Newport Jazz Festival, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Burning Man, and the Eagle Valley Community Fund (EVCF)'s Annual Auction and Sale, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in grand style this year.

When Vail was just a couple of ski runs scratched on a mountainside, the EVCF first collected castoffs from mega-dollar trophy homes in what has become one of the richest regions on Earth. The one-time goal of that first sale was to hire a teacher for the brand-new school. Nowadays, proceeds from the $180,000 event benefit over 60 local nonprofits, and the leftovers are distributed to Goodwill and other charities nationwide.

The original organizers, Vi and Byron Brown, still spend most of each year preparing for the next sale, held during the third and fourth weekends of August in the tiny old railroad town of Minturn about 8 miles west of Vail. Collections are stored in the old high school building, now dedicated year-round to the sale.

I arrived on the first day of the sale, August 21, just as the doors opened at 6:45 a.m. The scene looked like the morning after Thanksgiving at a Wal Mart Supercenter, minus the asphalt and uncivilized behavior. Hundreds of happy, chatting shoppers stood in line patiently, then entered like schoolchildren in a "walk, don't run" fire drill. Still, it got painfully crowded very quickly.

"We'll have 1,000 people in here by 10:00 a.m.," Byron predicted nonchalantly. "Probably get 3,000 people this weekend." I chatted with bargain hunters from Missouri, New York, Connecticut, and even Hawaii. Many were repeat customers of long standing.

"I've been coming here since I was little," said Lisa, a matronly volunteer at the coffee stand. "Our Dad used to give us each five dollars and the challenge was to get the most stuff for our money. Each of us always filled a huge sack." Indeed, I quickly realized that I would never be able to carry everything that my $200 budget would buy. I desperately wished for a fashion-savvy female companion, or at least my 13 year-old son to help haul booty.

Worn-once designer dresses, $20. Genuine and fetchingly faux fur coats, $40. A wool Benetton coat with hood and horn toggle buttons, fifty cents. All baby shoes, $1 per pair. Cosby-esque sweaters, $5. Leather and sheepskin Western outfits, under ten bucks. I snagged the four-bit Benetton and a $12 canvas jacket with leather collar, but left the rest of the clothing for a field I know better: the electronics and computer gear.

An IBM ThinkPad 760 laptop, lovingly maintained by CitiBank, $30. I felt guilty glee over the mint Proxima LCD data projection panel from the Minturn public library that had no price tag on it. The electronics room manager didn't know what it was so he hastily scribbled "$10" on the box. The street price is $500. Feeling like a slot machine winner who knew when to quit, I wandered outside to browse the big stuff, which covered the old school's football field completely.

The major appliances aisles put Home Depot to shame with every kind of refrigerator, freezer, stove, washer and dryer starting at $100 or less. There seemed to be enough leather couches and chaise lounges to equip every member of the American Psychological Association. Three 20-feet tall artificial palm trees staggered by; their breathless buyer said she paid $30 for the lot. Bound for auction were a dune buggy, a late model 4x4 pickup truck with six xenon lamps on its roll bar, and more vintage furniture than you'll see in ten episodes of The Antique Road Show.

The auction action started at 8:00 a.m. Veteran auctioneer Jac Laman played the crowd like a violin. Brand-new leather armchair and ottoman, $50. Beautifully weather-silvered cedar bench, $125. A spectacularly embroidered bar stool with glass display top, $35. Then Jack announced that a cell phone had been found in the campground. I hadn't been there but I instinctively slapped my shirt pocket anyway. Sure enough, no phone! I guessed it was in my motel room, so I had to head back to the far side of town.

I rescued my phone at the Turntable Motel & Diner, where construction workers and starving writers flop in college-dorm style for $29 a night. It was clean and quiet, at least. Feeling peckish, I ate a late breakfast and discovered the finest green chile this side of Tahoe. A frozen gallon left with me in exchange for $13.50. I intended to head back to the auction at the other end of Minturn, but a full stomach and a fuller Main Street changed my weary mind.

The regional farmer's market was in full swing by noon, adding to the LA-like traffic inching towards the EVCF site. I walked the market shaking my head at "real world" prices: four sets of Thai chopsticks for $20; elk jerky, 2 oz. for six bucks; peeled-log doggy bed and matching food/water bowls stand - I didn't even ask. But the guy selling the spoiled-pet items had an interesting eBay tale:

Seems his pal worked at SoundTrack when they were giving away sample CDs with three Rolling Stones tunes on each disc. Over 400 CDs were left when the promotion ended, and Dog Boy's pal got them gratis. They sold out on eBay for $35 to $100 each!

The two-hour drive back to Denver did me in. I couldn't face another trip to Minturn for Sunday's half-price selloff. Perhaps I will be up to it this coming weekend, when the crowds will be smaller and the bargains even bigger. Next year, I will be prepared with a rented truck and several adolescent porters. My calendar is booked for August 20-21, 2005.

Contacts for more information: (970) 926-0577, (970) 827-9426 or (970) 476-5701.


Elegant antique armoire

The line at 6:40 a.m.

Great cast iron stove

About the author:

David Hakala (eBay ID davidhakala) is a well-known technology journalist, marketing advisor, hunter-gatherer, herpetologist, and alligator wrestler. Disgruntled with public middle schools, he started an eBay business in April 2002 in order to give his 13 year-old son a useful education.

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