Garage sale hunting reaps a deal


March 20, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2009 at 10:20 p.m.

Vivian Cliffe paced in front of the driveway before dawn.

She anticipated the garage sale on Fieldstone would be the best of the day. Finally, the garage door opened on the rainy Friday morning and Cliffe and 10 others moved in like scavengers, flashlights in hand.

Cliffe, of Victoria, got to work opening boxes and looking for her most coveted collectibles: dolls.

One saleswoman held up a Christmas Barbie still in the box.

"Three for Barbie!" she called out, holding up the treasure.

Cliffe immediately grabbed it and continued her hunt through the garage, where she bumped into other regulars along the way.

"It gets in your blood," Cliffe said about garage sale shopping. "Look at the wonderful people you get to meet. We have a fun time comparing, seeing what other people will sell."

One regular shopper, Calvin Welfel of Victoria, hasn't missed many Friday sales during the past 25 years. He writes a list of his favorite sales on an Excel spreadsheet to keep organized.

Die-hard goers visit sales year-round, but more garage sales start popping up around the spring cleaning time of year. Cliffe, 64, has shopped garage sale prices for more than 40 years and hates to buy anything new.

She maps out her morning by checking the Advocate online and writing her must-see stops on notepad paper. She saw the word "dolls" on the Fieldstone ad and made it her first stop. She netted an American Girl doll for $3. Those dolls retail for between $80 and $100.

She also socked away Hummel figurines for $3 a piece - a steal in the world of collectibles.

"We did really good," she said as she drove away. "We hit the mother load at that first one."

She hopes to get her daughter started on collecting the American Girl collection, including the books. Her first daughter never liked the garage sale habit, but Cliffe reared her younger daughter, Candy Rutland, on garage sale items.

The retired elementary school teacher remembered how she would buy exotic items just to show her girls and her students. She once bought a rainstick, a tube filled with beans that sounds like a rainstorm.

"That's the wonderful thing about garage sales for the girls. I could bring them the world," Cliffe said. "It's just a wonderful learning experience."

Rutland, now with her own family in San Antonio, calls her mom the queen of the garage sale community. She knows all her birthday and Christmas gifts come from garage sales, but Rutland doesn't mind because she knows how much effort and thought her mother puts into it.

Cliffe hires on Rutland's help for her own large garage sale every year. Last year's netted $2,000, which will help Cliffe continue her shopping addiction.

Most garage sale shoppers end up always needing to have a garage sale themselves, but the regulars let each other know way in advance, Cliffe said.

Cliffe loves finding great deals, especially on items she already had in mind, but that isn't all that appeals to the grandmother. She wonders why people sell the things they do or how they ended up with an item in the first place.

"Basically, I'm a very nosy person. I love to ask questions," she said with a laugh. "It's just the curiosity of what's out there. And it's a cheap hobby."



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