Yard Sales and Flea Markets

Every weekend, many Americans drive around looking for things to buy. They are taking part in an unusual kind of outdoor treasure hunt. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Rich Kleinfeldt A report about yard sales and flea markets is our story today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

"Everybody loves a bargain" is a well-known saying. A bargain is a good deal. It is something you get for less than its value. One person's useless, ugly, or broken object can be another person's bargain. That is why so many Americans do not throw things away. They put them outside their house. They put on a "For Sale" sign. And, as simple as that, they have a yard sale.

In some parts of the country, such a sale might be called a garage sale or a moving sale. Whatever the name, the activity is the same. People sell things they no longer want.

Over the years, many people's houses fill up with objects: Books no one wants to read any more. Baby clothes for the child who is now a university student.

These objects are no longer useful to the first owner. Yet it seems wasteful to throw them away. Often, people must make a decision about things when they move to a different house. "Let's have a yard sale," they say. "Then we will not have to move the things we do not use anymore. And we can make a little money at the same time."

The sellers put a paid announcement in a local newspaper. It tells when and where the yard sale will take place. It lists some of the things to be sold. These sales are very popular during weekends in spring, summer, and autumn. On one weekend, for example, you can find announcements for almost two-hundred yard sales around Washington, DC.

Early in the morning, all the things to be sold are carried out of the house. Then they sit all day in the sunlight -- like tired guests at a party -- waiting for someone to take them home.

Just about anything can be sold at a yard sale. Sometimes, there are more clothes than anything else. Cooking equipment is also popular. So are old toys, tools, books, tables, and chairs. Then there are objects called "white elephants." A white elephant is something you think is extremely ugly or useless.

It may be an electric light shaped like a fish. You feel a sharp pain whenever you look at it. To someone else, however, it might be a thing of beauty and joy.

Usually, the seller puts a price on each object at a yard sale. However, that price can almost always be negotiated. The price of a table, for example, might be marked "Ten Dollars." But the seller probably will accept eight dollars. By the end of the day, if the table has not been sold, the seller probably will accept much less.

Serious buyers also spend time getting ready for yard sales. They collect the newspaper announcements. Then they make lists of the sales they want to attend. Some use maps to plan their trip. They want to get to as many sales as possible.

A man who lives near the Middle Western city of Chicago filled his home almost completely with furniture and window coverings from yard sales. He said he was able to travel to Japan with the money he saved.

New things in stores cost more than some people can pay. So, they are happy to find a painting, a warm coat, or a chair for ten or fifteen dollars. Perhaps they find dishes for twenty dollars that would cost one-hundred dollars in a store.

Some professional dealers in old objects also go to yard sales. They may find a valuable object for a small amount of money. Then they will re-sell it in their own store. . .usually at a much higher price.

Other people go because they enjoy the hunt. They like to find beautiful or unusual things that are being sold for less than their value. They may find a piece of old furniture, for example, that is worth a lot of money after it is repaired.

Some people go to yard sales to find a special thing that they collect. It may be old toy trains, for example, or paintings of dogs. Experts say more Americans are collecting old things now than ever before. The most popular things to collect are small objects: old money, stamps, dolls, bottles, baseball cards, toys and advertising signs.

Most people who go to yard sales, however, are not looking for anything special. They might buy an object simply because it costs so little. They enjoy negotiating over prices, even if they really do not need the object. Later, they may hold their own yard sale to sell all the things they have bought.

A flea market is similar to a yard sale, only bigger. Flea markets get their name from small, wingless insects called fleas. Fleas jump on to animals or humans and hide in their hair. Some people say the expression "flea market" comes from the fear that fleas may be hiding in the old things you buy at such a market.

Some flea markets are community events. Many families bring things to sell. The event may be held at a school or in a park. Some schools and churches hold flea markets once a year to earn money for special projects. Most flea markets, however, are held on weekends during spring, summer, and autumn.

Professional dealers' flea markets are more organized than yard sales or community flea markets. Sellers usually must get a trader's license from the local government. They must collect tax on everything they sell.

Some people get all their earnings by selling things at flea markets. Others have traditional jobs and earn a little extra money at flea markets. Some dealers at a flea market sell lots of different things. Others sell just one kind of thing. It may be glass objects or old farm equipment. Many professional flea markets sell only antiques. In America, things are considered antique if they are at least one-hundred years old.

One of the largest flea markets in the world is held in the state of California. On the second Sunday of every month, buyers look at objects offered by more than two-thousand sellers. This huge event is the Rose Bowl Flea Market. It takes place in the famous sports center in Pasadena, California. In sunshine or during rain, sellers show all kinds of things: books, records, fishbowls, seashells, doghouses.

Arts and crafts are offered at the Rose Bowl Arts and Crafts Outdoor Festival, in connection with the Rose Bowl Flea Market. The only objects not permitted for sale include food, animals, and guns.

Another famous market is called "The World's Longest Outdoor Sale." This event is held each year along a road that runs through the southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. The sale is seven-hundred-twenty-five kilometers long.

The twelfth yearly sale was held last Thursday through Sunday. More than two-thousand people lined up to sell things. They included antiques, art, farm tools, home-made food, even cats and dogs. Thousands of people stopped their cars and looked over the goods at "The World's Longest Outdoor Sale."

To some people, flea markets and yard sales are a sign that Americans are too concerned with material possessions. They ask: Why do people spend so much time buying things they probably do not need? Is it some basic human desire to trade or to get something for almost nothing?

Some people have a strong desire to collect old objects such as toys or dolls. Perhaps they may be trying to recapture the happy times when they were children.

To other people, yard sales are simply a way to have fun. In some communities, ten or twenty families may have a yard sale on the same weekend. These are important social gatherings. A busy working mother in Cleveland said she would never have met so many people who live near her without yard sales.

Other people say yard sales help the environment. Old things are re-used instead of being thrown away.

In any case, experts say buying and collecting objects at yard sales and flea markets are more popular than ever in America. Hunting for unusual items is a sport for some people. For others, it is a way of life.

This program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Rich Kleinfeldt. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.