In my book, the Northside community yard sale is the event of the year in Cincinnati for us bargain hunters. Northside is just across the viaduct from Clifton, but it’s a more traditionally blue collar neighborhood. Over the years it’s become a location of choice for the arts community, gay and lesbian couples, young UC faculty members, and generally folks with hippy-like dispositions. Given people’s aesthetic sophistication and alternative life styles, Northside is a yard sale paradise. The community sale occurs once a year in late summer, and over a hundred homes participate, spearheaded by a big church rummage sale. The merchandise is esoteric, e.g., art books, crystal goblets, tarot cards, sea shells, Grateful Dead placards, 8-track tapes, scented candles, ostrich feathers, mountaineering equipment, you name it. The people are mellow, the prices are low, and you’re expected to bargain. Last year I bought six bottles of Yellowtail wine for six dollars.
I went along with my friend Phyllis on a recent Saturday morning. Our spouses are more highbrow in their tastes and thus disinterested in the Northside sale. As an opera devotee and world traveller, Phyllis has a highbrow side too, but, in her second self, she is a flea market/thrift shop junkie, and she wouldn’t miss Northside. It’s a walking adventure, much of it contained within a five block by five block radius. Phyllis likes to go to everything, so we spent four hours scouring the neighborhood. It’s a very pleasant outing for a sunny Saturday morning. People are in a good mood and like to chit chat, there’s tons of stuff to look over, and there is that exhilarating feeling of being on a treasure hunt where you never know what fascinating thing you’ll find next, usually being sold for about 10 percent of its original price. The event also has a carnival atmosphere to it. Hundreds and hundreds of people, mostly middle-aged, mostly white, mostly middle-class-looking, are out on the sidewalks, searching for whatever bargains strike their eye. These are people who have housefuls of stuff already and don’t have room for much more. Nor do they want to spend any money. But they do like to devote their leisure time to the all-American quest of accumulating more material goodies. Rather than go to the mall, a more serious venture, they wander around to see what objects can be found from somebody else’s attic or basement. And everybody is ecstatic. I would claim to be skeptical of all this except that I clearly am one of them.
Both Phyllis and I had successful outings. Phyllis has a particularly effective bargaining style. She doesn’t asks the price of things, but rather says in a pleasant voice, “Will you take a quarter for this?” Almost always people say yes. On this trip, she got jewelry and clothing and books and linens and pez containers and many other things I can’t even recall. Because I spread out my take on the dining room table, I can give you a more detailed list of my acquisitions:
1 Mickey Mouse keychain $0.50
1 black folding umbrella $0.50
5 12” metal tent stakes $1.00
1 1956 Dinah Shore NBC publicity photo $1.00
1 dish towel for camping $0.25
1 white hooded Gap coat $3.00
1 8’ x 10’ woven rug for my office $7.00
1 camouflage Belterra Casino cap $0.50
1 bag of colorful stones & arrowheads $0.50
2 videos of W. Allen & H. Bogart movies $1.00
1 Cincinnati magazine (Dec. 2000) free
2 French prints free
1 rubber Superman toy $0.50
1 Dockers broad-brimmed camping hat $1.00
1 album of horse prints $0.25
4 black and brown leather belts $3.00
In these days of over-priced commodities, you probably find it hard to believe that one could get all this for only $20. Not only that, but I had been wanting to get every single item. This is the wonder of the yard sale as an American institution. You could furnish your entire life with the stuff that other people put out in their yard. After finishing Northside, we drove across the river to the Mainstrasse area in Covington, KY. Mainstrasse was the starting point that weekend of the World’s Longest Yard Sale, which stretched 500 miles from Covington down Route 127 to Gadsen, Alabama. An important perk of living in Cincinnati is that this world class event has its beginning here. After browsing the tables of 40 or 50 vendors, we considered driving down Route 127 into rural Kentucky. However, we’d been so successful in Northside that, aside from checking out Mainstrasse, we actually decided to bypass the longest sale in the world.