Is the cherished American tradition of hawking decrepit lawn mowers, Precious Moments figurines, and VHS tapes of “Quantum Leap” from the comfort of your front lawn or driveway under threat from local garage sale gestapos? According to msnbc.com, in many towns and municipalities across the country, yes it is.
To be clear, yard sale crackdowns exist mainly to curb those of the “extreme” variety, i.e. disruptive, rubberneck-inducing roadside retail operations that are held every weekend and involve multiple junked cars, large appliances, and ungodly amounts of crap ... we're not necessarily talking about a couple of card tables set out on a Sunday afternoon that have been topped with the remnants of a seasonal closet cleanout. That’s totally understandable — I wouldn’t want to live next door to a perma yard sale. But still, in many areas of the country where garage sale limits, permits, rules, and fees are being imposed, it doesn’t really matter if you’re unloading a washer and dryer set or a box of old baby clothes.
Take Dallas for instance, where the city council passed an ordinance last year that puts a cap on how many garage sales residents can hold (two per 12-month period) and how long they can last (no more than three consecutive days). Residents are also required to obtain a permit and pay a $15 fee. There’s also a whole bunch of restrictions about where exactly signage for the sale can be placed (thank god for Craiglist, eh?).
Council member Dwaine Caraway tells msnbc, “It wasn’t about making revenue for the city more than to get something under control that was increasingly growing out of control. People throughout neighborhoods and communities — some people, not all — were taking advantage of it. They’d roll out stuff and roll it back in every weekend. A garage sale to me is you got an old pair of shoes, or an old set of golf clubs or dishes. But this stuff was in boxes. Some with tags on them."
Oklahoma City has a similar law on the books that limits the number of tag sales a household holds to two a year provided that a proper permit is obtained first for seven bucks a pop. In San Antonio, residents within city limits are allowed four garage sales a year but must cough up $16 or $16.50 per permit. Plus, the sale of (secondhand?) glue to minors is verboten but there’s no mention of the sale of unused merch. In Mamaroneck, N.Y., the laws are particularly rough: $20 for the privilege of holding no more than one garage sale a year.
Similar restrictions have been proposed or instituted in Tacoma, Wash.; Norfolk, Va.; Long Beach, Calif.; South Greensburg, Pa.; Springfield, Mo.; Las Cruces, N.M.; and in Palm Springs, Calif., where I’d imagine there’s some great loot waiting to be snagged up by all those “early birds.” The garage sale overlords in another town where there’s the potential for stumbling across secondhand treasures, Beverly Hills, requires that garage sales are held behind homes so that they aren’t visible from the street and must be advertised using only city-issued signs. And if you live in Louisiana, there’s a truly bizarre new law on the books meant to curb the sale of stolen goods that not only limits the number of rummage sales a resident can hold but requires them to log customers’ IDs and only accept personal checks, credit cards, or money orders as payment … no cash transactions allowed.
As suggested by msnbc, the poor economy is responsible for the recent spike in garage sales, or at least the traffic-disrupting “extreme” ones that towns are trying to limit. According to TagSellIt.com, 45,000 garage sales are held every weekend across the U.S., which sounds about right. “The middle class appears to be shrinking while the lower classes are growing, and members of the middle class seem to be engaging in thrift behaviors as an adaptive strategy under conditions of downward mobility,” Todd Goodsell, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University tells msnbc.
Has your attitude toward garage sales changed in recent years? Have you yourself held them primarily as a method of unloading junk unearthed after cleaning or before moving? Or have you begun to consider them more as a serious money-making venture? And does your town/municipality have any rules or restrictions surrounding garage sales? What do you think of them? A necessary evil or just unnecessary?