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Rummage season blooms with bargains

Special to the Journal Sentinel
Posted: March 28, 2004

In Wisconsin, the rummage sale season is dictated by weather, and as such, November through March is no-man's land.

But by April 1 rummage sale interest begins to heighten. Soon, the first ads of the season appear in the local newspaper, and by May 1, the hunt for treasure by die-hard rummagers will be in full swing.

Over the years, those who faithfully rummage have come to appreciate certain items they know can be found at yard and garage sales. It is the rummagers' credo that these items should only be bought second hand.

Even the rare rummager too timid to bargain will find these abundant basics can be had for a mere pittance of what you'd pay retail.

If you won't settle for anything less that what Ralph Lauren would design or Sotheby's would catalog, this article may be a waste of your time. But if you can put aside designer labels and valuable antiques (which can be found at rummage sales, but less frequently), hit the weekly neighborhood sale circuit and you'll come home ahead of the game with these items:


Jenn Callum is known as the Garage-sale Guru. Her Web site, is a great source for rummagers.

Callum says books are a can't-miss rummage sale buy. "If you collect hardcover books, garage sales are your absolute best bet! I lost several hundred books in a flood a few years back, which devastated me. Garage sales have been instrumental in replacing many that were lost, for $1 or $2 each. Paperbacks for 25 cents are definitely a gold mine of entertainment for practically nothing."

Last year's hot appliance

Never bought a bread machine, even though they've beckoned you? You'll find your choice of a half-dozen on a good rummage day, and the prices are dropping. Want to make homemade ice cream with your kids? Chill. Ice cream makers are often spotted for less than $5.

Ask the seller if the instructions or cookbooks that often come with these items are available. They might be quickly located and thrown in to seal the deal.

The retro appliance

Notice the trend back to slow cooking? Put on the brakes at your neighborhood garage sales and you'll find a lightly (or never) used Crock Pot for a song.

Carol Hirschi, a regular rummage sale attendee and owner of the Brumder Mansion Bed and Breakfast, spots fondue pots from the 1970s with frequency, "And fondue is hot, hot, hot right now," she says. Hirschi also successfully seeks out industrial-size coffeemakers, which are often priced at around $5. "They cost a fortune if you buy them new," she says.

Children's toys

Those high-priced miniature playhouses and kitchen appliances your child loves to play with are some of the big-ticket items spotted at a number of sales for reasonable prices. Sleds, bikes, scooters and skates often can be found.

Meanwhile, don't miss the small items that sellers are hot to move. Legos, cars, action figures, puzzles, and stuffed animals are everywhere you look, sometimes in the nickel box!

Costume jewelry

Whether it's destined to be recycled for art projects, headed for the kid's box of dress-up clothes, or clasped around your neck at the next PTA meeting, inexpensive jewelry is abundant.

While Angie Wegner is usually on the hunt for finds for her business, A&C Antiques and Collectables in Waukesha, she never passes up an opportunity to buy costume jewelry for her mother, who is in a nursing home. "She loves to bejewel herself," Wegner said lightheartedly, and the fact that most pieces are picked up for pocket change means that when, "not if," her mom loses them, they are easily replaced.


Looking for just the right atmosphere for your next party, even though your budget has been drained by such nonsense as food, drinks, and paper products? Rummage sales are a great source for votive and other candleholders, and some will come with fresh candles firmly in place.

They're often priced at less than $1 and many can be had for just a quarter. Mix and match them for a lively and unusual decorating statement.

Baby and children's clothes

Often these are lightly used and lovingly maintained. When babies grow out of sizes seemingly overnight, why invest those hard-earned dollars on coveralls, T-shirts, and itty-bitty tennis shoes that will barely be used? Worth looking for is children's winter outerwear, which can be bought at significant savings.

According to Callum, "Very rarely will a good winter jacket or snowsuit be worn out by the time spring rolls around, so you can usually find these items in terrific shape for very little money."

Photo frames

People seem to buy more photo frames then they know what to do with, and it's not unheard of to find lovely wood and metal frames on a yard sale table still in the original packaging.


"I see baskets at every rummage stop I make," Wegner said. Use them for storage, decoration, and gift giving. They are as abundant at rummage sales as ants at a picnic.

Beach blankets

Even if you only go to the beach once a year, you know how important it is to have a big blanket between the sand and your bags, books, cover-ups, shoes and coolers. Old flannel sheets are the perfect solution. They're large, soft, lightweight, compact when folded, and cheap, cheap, cheap at many a rummage sale stop.

Pick up extras to keep in your car and grab when you attend kid's sporting events on a blustery day.


They probably won't be Waterford or Lenox, but if you're the kind of person who likes to give flowers to a shut in, sick friend, teacher, or as a hostess gift or friendly gesture, inexpensive and practical glass and plastic vases can be found at dozens of rummage sales on any given day. The plainer they are, the cheaper they'll be, but who cares when it's the flowers that everyone will notice.

Rummaging can be the answer to many of your shopping needs, and an hour or two a week will easily allow you to hit a dozen or more sales. But be forewarned; it's conceivable you will find you are enjoying yourself far more than expected and you might become a true rummage sale convert.

From the March 28, 2004 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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