Garage sale season

Margaret Martin remembers the garage sale vendor with just one item.

“We had a guy sell a boat on a trailer,” said Martin, program supervisor for Westland Parks and Recreation, including its annual community garage sale. “He rented a $20 spot and sold the boat in an hour and went home. The guy who bought it from him hooked it up and left. Everyone was happy.”

Martin, who has overseen the community sale for 16 years, said vendors typically sell a mix of merchandise, not just one item.

“We do see a lot of toys, games, a lot of kitchen supplies, china, silverware, glasses and smaller furniture. This is truly a garage sale and high-end items rarely sell well.”

She said 20 percent of the vendors are professional sellers. Another 10 percent use the event, held in a city parking lot on Ford Road, for fundraising. The rest are individuals and families.

“Some are repeat folks, but they are just cleaning out their basements. You rent your spot, show up that day and have a good time.”

The city has begun renting parking lot spaces for $20 each for the sale that runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. May 12. Call (734) 722-7620.

Permits, signs

In other communities the residential garage sale season is underway, as homeowners haul items from the basement, closets and the attic into their driveways and backyards.

“We’re doing a few right now, but not too many,” said a spokeswoman at the Livonia clerk’s office, which sells garage sale permits. Livonia residents may hold two sales annually and must buy a $5 permit for the first sale, and spend $10 for the second sale. Sales must be four weeks apart. “We only get a few who do the second sale in a year.”

Garden City and Redford also require permits for sales. Westland, Canton and Plymouth don’t. All communities, however, regulate garage sale signs. None permit signs on the city right-of-way between the curb and sidewalk.

“It is an ordinance violation to post signs on utility poles. It’s subject to a $50 fine,” noted a spokesman for Plymouth’s code enforcement department.

Complying with city sign and permit regulations is key to a successful sale at home. All of the communities post at least some information online.

Pricing, display and organization are important, too.

Church sale

“We price our stuff quite low. We might want to put a few things on racks. We have ladders to hang clothes on,” said Carol Napier, who coordinates Good Hope Lutheran Church’s annual sale. It runs Thursday-Friday, April 26-27 at the church in Garden City. “We might price a few things that are super nice a little higher.”

Most clothing items are grouped on tables. All blue jeans, for example, are displayed together.

Items that are too worn often end up in the garbage, rather than a display table, Napier said.

Martin also suggests that garage sale vendors consider which items are likely to sell and which should be tossed.

“People don’t want to buy garbage,” Martin said. “If you were going to throw it in the dumpster anyway, that’s probably where it should go.


But Napier cautions against discarding all old or damaged items too quickly.

“If it’s old or cracked there may be a collector for it anyway,” she said, recalling two green Pyrex bowls that she rescued from the trash during a previous sale at Good Hope. “I put 50 cents on them. Those bowls were right out the door.”

Another time, she priced “an ugly-looking platter” at $10.

“Everyone said it was too high, but I said, we can always come down in price.”

That’s what many vendors do at Westland’s community garage sale. They often negotiate with customers and drop prices as the sale proceeds.

“Put up signs that say prices are negotiable,” Martin said. “Some people do grab bags that sell for a nickle. They put 10 items in a bag. It’s a mystery, like buying a lottery ticket. You can do that with little things, like white elephant stuff. Those tend to be kind of fun.”

Martin’s other suggestions for a successful sale:

  • Organize the display so customers can see items clearly.

  • Make sure items are clean.

  • Put price tags on everything.

  • Make sure to have tarps on hand in case of rain.

  • Put up a canopy. It must be free-standing if used at the Westland community garage sale. Martin said a protective canopy can attract customers on drizzly or hot, sunny days.

  • Never leave the money box unattended.

  • Have plenty of change or single bills on hand.

  • Ask a friend or family member to help you sell. When you need a quick break you’ll have someone on hand to watch “the store” while you’re gone.

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