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Central Standard

Going To A Kansas City Garage Sale? Read This First

Sylvia Maria Gross
Every weekend, street corners in Brookside are peppered with signs advertising garage and estate sales.

Garage, yard and estate sales may not be unique to Kansas City, but we do have our peculiarities.

For example, thriving flea markets – particularly in the West Bottoms – affect what we’re finding in garage sales. And if someone insists they are having an estate sale in their driveway, you might want to lower your expectations.

In a peppy discussion on Central Standard this week, host Gina Kaufmann explored Kansas City’s deal-seeking community. Shoppers or potential shoppers, here’s what we learned that may help you on your next foray:

  • Most people have no idea about the value of anything.

Those are the (paraphrased) words of Jennifer Field, a local artist who runs estate sales. The potential value of items is incredibly fluid. Some people will charge 5 cents, others $5 for the same thing. The value to the individual shopper is usually somewhere in between.

  • Sentimental value adds to the real value.

While people don’t always know how to price something, the simple fact that an item has been treasured can make it more valuable, according to Gretchen Hermann, an anthropologist who has written extensively on culture and behavior at these kinds of sales in the United States.  

  • In general, start time isn’t the true start time.

Seasoned shoppers generally arrive in the first half-hour of a sale – or earlier, Field said, because many sales start earlier than their stated start time.

  • But coming early may cost you.

Sellers aren’t as willing to haggle in the early hours. Later in the sale, you are likely to get bargaining, Hermann said.

  • Beware the false or over-stated “estate” sale.

“There’s a bad etiquette (in Kansas City) that people occasionally label their garage and yard sales [ as ] estate sale and make you drive miles over there to find them,” Field said. “It’s not very cool.”

Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR
The Fitzgerald family in Brookside has a garage sale every year, often selling things they've acquired at other garage sales.

  She made the distinction clear: A yard sale is in a yard. A garage sale is in a driveway or garage. An estate sale should be an entire house -- either someone has died or moved and has left a “considerable amount of stuff,” everything from cleaning supplies to clothes.

  • If you don’t care for bargaining, check out Kansas City’s vibrant flea markets.

At most garage and yard sales, there’s some wiggle room built into the pricing, and some folks (like Gina Kaufmann) love to score a deal. But if you’re more comfortable with firm pricing, flea markets are a good option.
“We’ve always had a really good flea market culture in Kansas City. The 63rd St. Drive-in, the Boulevard Drive-in are open year-own. Which is unusual. A lot of cities have a much more sporadic monthly flea markets. But we have weekly flea markets almost year round, which is great,” Field said.

The biggest flea market operation is in the West Bottoms, and you won’t find much haggling there, Field said.

On the down side, though, the robust flea markets have made shopping in Kansas City a little more difficult, she said: “Garage sales are picked over faster. Estate sales, picked over faster. It’s a little more competitive.”

  • Good luck scoring high-end antiques at garage, yard and garage sales.

Most fine antiques in this area get sent to auction houses in Kansas City or elsewhere, Field said, adding that mid-range and low items tend to end up in the West Bottoms. What’s more, the best collectors in Kansas City maintain relationships with the auction houses and estate companies – so they can get in first.

  • Still, the big score is always possible.

Caller “Bonnie,” from North Kansas City, shared her story. In the the mid-1990s she paid $25 for some small items and a painting. Years later, she called the artist and found out the value of the painting: $6,000.

  • If you want to be a collector, try out a few sales to find out what you’re drawn to.

“Collections find people at garage sales,” Hermann said.

  • If you want old things, you need to go to old neighborhoods.

In general, you’ll find new stuff in newer neighborhoods.And if you're interested in international items, seek out sales near military bases.

  • And finally, a word about etiquette

The Central Standard guests had these thoughts: It’s not a good idea to go to a garage sales and say something derogatory about the products. And don’t be rude in haggling. “If you harass, you won’t get anywhere,” Field said. Basically, respect the people who are selling and try to negotiate on the merits of things, which may be that the price is too high for you.

Central Standard
Donna Vestal is the Managing Director of America Amplified: Election 2020.