I’m what you’d call a dedicated stoop-seller. For the last five years I’ve had an annual sale here in Brooklyn (at my friend’s place in Cobble Hill to be exact), and I’ve had sales at many other places over the years. In fact, I may hold some kind of stoop/garage/yard/sidewalk/street sale-location record, with (in reverse order) San Francisco, Chicago, Manhattan, and San Diego also on my list.
It must be in my blood: my great-grandparents included a Turkish rug merchant and the proprietor of a Lower East Side corner store. In addition, my mother, who’s an artist, has integrated a huge traveling garage sale into her installations for more than thirty years. But whereas my mom uses the form of the garage sale to comment on the nature of art and commodification, I just love sellin’ stuff.
Believe it or not, though, it’s not the profit motive that compels me. What really jazzes me about a sale is the idea that somebody wants something — a shirt, a picture frame, an old magazine — that I no longer need. And when their eye lights on that thing and we exchange some token amount of money, we both walk away from the transaction feeling like winners. I guess this confirms something about the world, about perception and point-of-view. Eye of the beholder and all that. And I gotta admit, it doesn’t hurt to get rid of a lot of junk and have some extra change jangling around in my pocket!
(Which is also why I’m an inveterate online auctioneer. I made my first eBay sale back in 1998 and I’ve been a regular there ever since. I go through periods of obsessive selling, but I’ve pulled back a bit and only put things up when I’ve got the time, which lately isn’t very often.)
But stoop sales are what I really look forward to, the opportunity to meet your customer and make that exchange face-to-face. Being a self-employed stay-at-home type, the stoop sale is my once-a-year chance to rub shoulders with — and sell stuff to — New York’s melting pot. Even in the white yuppie stronghold of Cobble Hill, our patrons include veiled Muslim women, Latino immigrants, Caribbean truck drivers, Chinese vagrants, European tourists, and the usual allotment of grungy hipsters.
An added bonus of a good sale is the chance it offers to spend time with your friends. Recently, we’ve been doing group sales, with five, six, or more buddies, and what other opportunities are there nowadays to hang with folks for six hours? The social sphere of a sale is filled with chances to chat one-on-one, join together in a good pitch, swap clothes & junk, and dandle each other’s pets and babies. And when the day is done, the stoop is clear again, and the leftover stuff has been sent to Goodwill, there’s noting better than spending your earnings on good food and drink with the sales gang.
Being a merchant at heart, I’m not much of a stoop sale customer. Unlike Sari, who will cross the street to check out a sale, I pass ‘em by without a second look — unless a vintage comic or cheap DVD catches my eye. Otherwise, I’m strictly a seller. Which is not to say that I haven’t “stooped” to accumulating inventory purely for the purpose of re-selling it. Being an artist, I’m not averse to “finding” stuff on the street (or in a garbage can or dumpster), not to mention the odd incredible deal at a thrift or antique store. But I know this is an unhealthy practice, and I try not to let it control me. Mostly my inventory is actual my stuff that for one reason or another has become obsolete or unnecessary. And of course all those useless holiday gifts that are un-returnable or not even worth re-gifting!
So, in honor of the form, here’s a blow-by-blow list of sales I’ve taken part in, from way back in the 70s, to the hair-raising East Village of the 80s, to sprawling sales in Chicago’s Wicker Park in the 90s, all the way to this decade in (to quote fellow stooper WJC) “The Lyn of Brook”…
THAT 70s SALE
Encinitas, California — The first sale I remember other than my mom’s installations. Actually, I wonder if it was weird for her to be having an actual sale rather than an art event. In any case, this was a true garage sale, as the big items sat in the garage while the rest of the stuff spilled out onto the driveway and front lawn. Like many later sales, this one was motivated by an imminent move — in this case to the Bay Area. I was eleven years old and minimally involved.
I REMEMBER THE 80s SALES
Brooklyn — My first solo sale, this was inspired by a surplus of bad 80s comics. In what become a regular practice, I had culled my collection and needed to get the bad stuff (late-Swan Superman & Action, post-Pérez Justice League, Batman & The Outsiders, et al.) out of the house. Unfortunately, at the time I lived deep in Brooklyn in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and the sale was pretty much a bust. The Jews didn’t want anything to do with me or my non-kosher comics. In fact, I only recall one guy — not a Jew — who even stopped to look through my stuff. Thus I learned the hard truth of the salesman’s mantra, “Location, location, location.” That, and advertising is good too. I hadn’t put up any signs.
My buddy Phil came by to lend a hand, but he was dealing with his own issues. Being a dark-skinned mixed-race guy, he was acutely aware of being of the only person “of color” in the neighborhood. We had a cover story ready if we were approached by a gang of roving Hasidic thugs. As Phil put it, we were to claim that he was actually just a “highly tanned Jewish guy.” Fortunately, we escaped unmolested, and I toted my box of unsold funnybooks back upstairs.
Manhattan — Back home from Ohio for summer break from college, I had another bout of comics culling. Plus, what about all those duplicate copies of Pérez Teen Titans I had hoarded? So I packed a couple of long boxes and an old milk crate (to sit on) on one of those flimsy wheelie carts and hit the subways for St. Mark’s Street. I was staying in Greenpoint at the time, so it was a long ride lugging that stuff on the G to the L to the 6 to Astor Place.
My high school buddy Delmo (yes, him!) met me on St. Mark’s and I set up on the curb. Things were going well, I had even made a couple of nice sales, when some nut-job in a beaten up black sedan almost ran me over pulling into the spot I was occupying. I made some noise about the deal — I think I actually scraped my back on the car jumping out of the way — when the guy popped out and practically killed me on the spot. He was some hopped-up speed metal freakazoid who probably ran one of those sleazy clothing shops on the street, and he ripped into me for sitting in the street, selling without a license, and whatever else he could think of. All I remember was his scarred greasy face about two inches from mine, spit flying, and me and Delmo feeling like total losers for not doing anything about it. But I ended up selling a bunch of comics. And I bet the guy died of AIDS like a year later.[ more to come soon — the ROARING 90s! ]