The Invasion of the Bargain Snatchers

Column by Jim Bishop

It was some years ago, but I still remember the first time a visit from my parents coincided with the semi-annual Belmont Estates yard sale.
Mom and Dad watched in awe as both sides of the streets of our sprawling subdivision filled with vehicles, and people, some on foot, some on bikes, descended on neighbors’ merchandise-laden tables in search of that special item. Favorable weather certainly helped swell the numbers.

“We’ve never seen anything to compare back in Bucks County (Pa.),” my folks said.

Dad also marveled at all the back-page newspaper ads for chicken barbeques, lawn parties and turkey, ham and oyster suppers.

The development-wide yard sales, held the first Saturday in May and the first Saturday after Labor Day in our development off U.S. 33 west of Harrisonburg, seem to have become almost the premiere event on many folks’ social calendar, offering the spirit of a family reunion or a county fair, complete with tasty food on the side.

Anna and I didn’t put any treasures on display this fall since we did last spring, and once-a-year participation is too often to suit me. It didn’t help that we spent hours gathering, pricing and arranging sale items on tables – not to mention arising at an ungodly hour, especially on a Saturday – to have everything ready for the early birds who start fluttering around the block even before dawn’s early light.

Then, just when it was all systems go, it started raining. Fortunately, the rain soon abated, but not before most handmade signs blurred and merchandise got wet.

I found myself wishing I had stayed in bed, not that I could sleep anyway (my internal clock seems to know when another yard sale draws nigh).

Attention, Belmont shoppers, don’t miss the incredible deals at the Bishop ranch, including old stereos (seems no one wants cassette players anymore) and the super selection of albums and 45s – “hey, mom, look, records!”

I did move a few discs that morning, to my wife’s amazement. We’ve learned over time that the secret of getting stuff off the tables and into the trunks of others’ vehicles is to price items lower than what they’re really worth, to give each potential customer a smile and being willing to negotiate the asking price if necessary.

My problem: At a certain point, I wander off our driveway and check out what must-have wares others are trying to get rid of.

The few dollars made at our sale I turned around and spent on bedding plants my neighbor was selling and an AM-FM radio embedded in a plastic floating device for use in a swimming pool (or in my case, as a white elephant gift at our small group’s Christmas party).

But I tell myself it’s good for the local economy.

What constitutes a bargain, really? For many, I suspect, it’s forking over money you should hold on to for something you really don’t need but can’t resist, thinking you can’t live without. The acquired bargain, in turn, usually winds up in a storage closet or under your bed, perhaps later winding up on one’s own yard sale table to become someone else’s prized “find.”

Go figure.

The primary bargain-hunting safaris for me these days are clipping coupons from Saturday’s newspaper and from circulars that come in the mail, asking every conceivable eating place if they offer a senior discount (we oldies gotta find the perks where we can), joining the Senior Advantage club at Rockingham Memorial Hospital and waiting until after the holidays to purchase certain seasonal items.

The bottom line – most of us think we’re pretty sharp when we chance upon a deal that’s almost too good to be true. Sometimes we win; sometimes we learn a hard “all that glitters is not gold” lesson. And, that’s not bad.

Then, I reflect on certain benefactions that have come my way: being raised in a happy, closely-knit environment; a loving spouse and family and a network of friends, a job that remains challenging among people who are great to work with; a faith commitment grounded in hope; a sense of well-being, security and contentment with what I have.

Now there’s some wonderful things I never bargained for, and I’m not about to offer them for resale at any price.

Jim (Bargain Basement Bonanza) Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be bargained with at

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