World’s Longest Yard Sale

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The grassy shoulders of the Lookout Mountain Parkway are littered with everything from furniture and electronics to handmade quilts and lawn ornaments. But the residents of the houses that dot this usually calm 2 lane highway are hardly complaining: Instead, they have set up concession stands to sell lemonade, polish sausages, and funnel cakes to hungry shoppers.

The World’s Longest Yard Sale draws thousands of collectors, bargain hunters, and curiosity seekers from as far away as New York, California, and Canada. For yard sale-ers like Thomas Anthony, of Naples, Florida, this annual celebration of trash and treasure is a rare opportunity to explore the country while indulging their love of knick-knacks. It’s not all about the shopping though.

“Coming from out of the area it’s a little bit more culturally different versus the people in our neck of the woods. So it’s a nice experience to get some hospitality of the locals and some funny stories,” Anthony explain. “Everyone’s got a good story to tell.”

Story teller Lacricia Gilbert credits herself with bringing the tradition of yard sales to the Fort Payne area back in the early ’70s.

“The preacher’s wife was from down at Birmingham, and she said she didn’t no nothing about a yard sale. She said, ‘What is a yard sale?’ I said ‘I’ll show you. Just bring me your stuff and we’ll have one.'” Gilbert says, “And so she, up until she died last year, she would say, ‘You’re just the mother of all yard sales.’ So that was the starting of the yard sale.”

Gilbert and her husband have been vendors at the world’s longest sale for seven years and consider it a summer vacation that also happens to pay. Frequenting flea markets and smaller yard sales throughout the year, Gilbert keeps her eyes open for the types of things she knows will sell well at the annual event.

“Everybody collects something!” Gilbert suggests. “Cigarette lighters, cookie jars, different plates, calendar plates, Coca-Cola, um, those Pez things that you get candy in that we used to throw away. They collect them. And I sell a lot of tiara.”

Begun in 1986, the world’s longest yard sale is known locally as an event in which the savvy collector might discover discarded items of untold value. But due to publicity from media outlets like Home and Garden Television, sellers have become more aware of what their items are actually worth and the much-sought-after ‘hidden gems’ have become fewer and far between. Angela Anthony traveled more than a thousand miles with her husband and son to attend the yard sale for the first time but while her purchases have been charming, she has not stumbled upon anything of significant value.

“I think the people that jumped on the bandwagon at the beginning probably, bought up what, you know, the real treasures were.”

So if you’re a treasure hunter, be sure to arrive early and ready to fight the crowds. But even if you miss out on the deal-of-a-lifetime you’re certain to meet plenty of interesting people and see some unique relics of rural southern living.

World’s Longest Yard Sale is a big money maker for vendors, but it’s also big business for local towns, as WBHM’s Tanya Ott explains.

Thousands of collectors and curiosity seekers converge each August on the highway connecting Gadsden, Alabama, to Covington, Kentucky. Shoppers like Angela Anthony, who drove nearly a thousand miles from her home in Naples, Florida, in search of a good deal.

‘I was looking forward to coming last year ‘ we missed it. And I said no matter what happens this year, we’re going and the lord provided us time and a few pennies to spend along the way.’

Shoppers are spending a lot more than a ‘few’ pennies. They’re also buying gas, meals and hotel rooms. Last year alone in Northeast Alabama’s DeKalb County, lodging taxes collected for overnight stays increased 7 percent over the previous year. It’s a huge economic boom for towns like Fort Payne ‘ where Jayne Robertson is the general manager of the Days Inn.

‘Every day of the last week we have filled all our rooms ‘ to not have come in an wonder will we sell out today or will we not. You know, it’s good to know that you will. It just kind of gives you a little breather for a while.’

That was the original intent of the yard sale ‘ to breathe life into small towns that lost a lot of foot traffic when interstates were built nearby. With the slogan, ‘I drove, I stopped, I shopped till I dropped’, the yard sale ‘ now in its 18th year – brings lots of folks back into these towns each August. Patty Tucker is Dekalb County’s tourism director.

‘It’s the biggest economic boom that we can have here, especially for a time of the year when school is starting back so the travel season is down tremendously. Well folks will come out for a yard sale, regardless of what’s going on in their life at that point in time.’

Local restaurants are staying open later and convenience stores are selling out of drinks and snacks. Mayor Bill Jordan says the yard sale boosts the long-term tax base as well because some people who visit, decide to stay.

‘People looking for a place to retire, relocate a business, start a new business. We have all the good features that any town should have’ ‘

There are downsides to what is, overall, a very popular event.

“Well it is kinda, you know, it’s trashy for a week!’ laughs Joan Crabtree.

Crabtree drove down to Alabama to sell her yard sale treasures because some towns in her home-state of Tennessee have started requiring vendors to purchase a business license. It’s a way for towns to recoup some of the expenses of managing the free-for-all. Dekalb County considered a business license fee, but quickly dropped it, figuring it wasn’t worth risking what’s become a very lucrative event. The World’s Longest Yard Sale runs through Sunday (8/15/04).