You may be wondering why I'm making such a drastic decision. Let's flash back about 10 years. It's 6:30 in the morning and the traffic is already bumper-to-bumper. Our first stop is a big open field with tents thrown up in neat rows. Surrounding the tents are long folding tables with goodies strewn across them, moving vans with stuff packed floor-to-ceiling, pickup trucks with boxes filled with miscellaneous treasures, and bric-à-brac spread out across the dewy grass. The sun is barely up, but already the yard-salers are milling around with their arms loaded with purchases. After 30 minutes, the parking field is full. We spend two hours in this first field of junker's dreams. We've barely begun and already we've spent a large portion of our junking money.
As we travel on, we're moving at a snail's pace. Places to park are scarce. At times you have to drive a half mile or more down the road and walk back to get to the sales. At each stop we find something we can't live without. By noon, we're sunburned, happy, and hungry. We stop in a field and buy a Polish sausage sandwich and a soda for $2. The man has a grill set up behind his truck and the sodas are kept cool in a barrel full of ice. The sandwich is delicious and no one dies of food poisoning. We're energized and move on to the next field to seek more treasures. By 2:00, we've drained our WLYS funds and call it a day.
But, as the years have gone by, the WLYS has gone through rough changes. In the early years it was truly one huge yard sale. Some of it was junk you wouldn't dream of buying, but most of it was great stuff ... and the prices were GREAT! After all, the fun of a yard sale is pawing through the boxes (you never know what treasures are hiding under all that stuff) and getting it for a steal! But, as time wore on, there were fewer and fewer treasures to be discovered. The true yard and junk sales were being replaced by professional resellers and antiques dealers that rented yard space. The prices began to rise considerably. Then, a few years ago, things went from bad to worse. At 7 am on the first day, the yard sales already had a "picked over" look to them. After a few stops, I finally asked a lady at a garage sale why there was so little available. She gave me a disgusted look and said, "The antique dealers showed up yesterday while everyone was setting up and bought all the good stuff!" I was aghast! Here were thousands of people who had taken a vacation day (or three) from work, driven hundreds of miles, "played by the rules" — only to get leftovers from the dealers who showed up the day BEFORE the actual start date!? To me, that was just plain WRONG! I knew at that point, it was all over for the true "junk seekers". I knew that the people that spent all that time and money just to get there only to leave empty-handed would unlikely return the next year. I knew it wouldn't be long until hardly anyone would show up. As it turns out, THIS was that year.
WLYS 2008. It's 6:30 in the morning. There's NO traffic. None whatsoever. The huge field that held all those sellers years before? Empty. We pass on by. I begin to wonder, "Did I get the date wrong?" We move on up the highway but instead of bumper-to-bumper traffic and hand-written "yard sale" signs, we're greeted by yellow tape with "NO PARKING" printed on it. We continue on about a half mile before we see a handful of cars parked on the side of the road. Three houses in a row are having yard sales. We go to house #1 and we find nothing. House #2 — nothing. Finally, at house #3 I spend my first dollar. Across the street is an open field and a church parking lot. In years past the parking lot and field were filled with sellers. This year there are two. One is selling used children's clothing and the other is selling new purses — the kind you find at all the flea markets. We get back in the car and drive for a while. There's still no traffic. After a while, we stumble upon a few more yard sales. Again, everything has that "picked over" look to it. I check out a small accent table that I think looks promising until I make a closer inspection — there's water damage and a broken and glued leg. It's priced at $175. I pass. I peruse the table with dishes, but most have some sort of damage — chips, cracks, and stains. Where's all the GOOD stuff? I ask the seller why the sale is so bare. After all, there are hardly any shoppers and it's only 7:00 am on the first day of the sale. She tells me the professional resellers and antique dealers bought up all the good stuff yesterday. WHAT!? AGAIN!? We continue on. As we stop at one small yard sale after another we note that each and every one of them are picked over. Again, I ask the sellers what happened. Like a broken record, I'm informed again and again that all of the good stuff was sold yesterday. As we approach the end of the day, I note I have spent a grand total of $125, with most of that on fresh fruits, vegetables, Tupperware, ice, breakfast, lunch, and supper. I'm sporting a bee sting, welts on my leg from stepping in a fire ant mound, and a bruise from stepping in a hole in a field. Battle scars that would have been worth it if I had found a car load of treasures. This year it is just fuel added to the fire. The disappointment is crushing. I then make the decision — this is the last year for the WLYS for me. Does this mean that I'll stop yard sale hopping for good? Don't be silly! In the upcoming months I'll attempt to find more great junk at the local yard sales and attend the "WLYS knock-offs" that now occur all over the US, but I won't be back to Highway 127.
Now I'm sure a lot of people will blame the lack of attendance by both sellers and buyers on the economy and the high price of gas. But it all can't be blamed on those two things alone. The sluggish economy should bring "good deal seekers" in droves. But in all honestly it can't be blamed on those two things — especially since the sale has been steadily declining in quality and attendance over the past 10 years. These were the years before the economy went bust and the price of gas was relatively reasonable.
In truth, the WLYS has just run its course. Its demise was sped up by the early birds that ruined the fun for everyone else. Perhaps if they'd posted "no early sales" signs — and obeyed them — then everyone would have had an equal opportunity and it might still be a decent event. But it's too late now — the shoppers have stayed home and they won't be coming back. Another mitigating factor in the decline is competing "copy cat" yard sales. For years, the WLYS was THE ONE. That is until its popularity reached epic proportions. Then came Antique Alley, the US 60 Yard Sale, the US 23 Country Music Highway Yard Sale, the U.S. Highway 36 Treasure Hunt — the list goes on and on. After all, why travel to US Highway 127 for the WLYS when chances are you have one closer to home?
To me, it's just painfully obvious that the WLYS is over. Its heyday was years ago. Now is time for the die-hard junkers to move on to the next big thing. On to more fertile territory.
Cherri Simonds is dealnews' Office Manager, Queen Bee, author of Collectible Costume Jewelry: Identification & Values, and one helluva bargain hunter.