Are you a secondhand shopper? Do you enjoy sifting through racks, bins and shelves to find a bargain or a one-of-a-kind item? Do you shop at thrift stores or on websites like Depop? What about at in-person events like garage sales or flea markets?
Would you want to shop the world’s longest yard sale?
In “4 Days, 690 Miles, Countless Stalls: Behold the ‘World’s Longest Yard Sale,’” Kendall Waldman writes about an annual event which takes place along a highway that stretches from Alabama to Michigan:
To the visitor driving in from out of state, the 127 Yard Sale seems like a kind of Ironman for thrifters. The “world’s longest yard sale” is a test of endurance and attention. Spanning six states, 690 miles and thousands of stalls, it traverses dramatic landscapes, delicate cultural terrain and two time zones. Seeing it all in the four allotted days — Aug. 3 to 6 this year — is enough to induce vertigo in even the most stable-minded deal hunter. But some of us are foolish enough to try anyway.
The event was designed to promote cultural and economic exchange. In 1987, Mike Walker, then a 28-year-old county executive in Jamestown, Tenn., conceived of it as a way to lure travelers off the Interstate and into the small towns along U.S. Route 127, from Jamestown to Covington, Ky. In the following decades, it spread south to Georgia and Alabama and inched north to Ohio and then Michigan.
The 127 Yard Sale is fluid, kinetic, alive. This makes it a bit hard to find its official beginning. Driving down 127, I started to see “yard sale” signs long before reaching its northernmost point in Addison, Mich. We asked some guys at a gas station where they thought it started. They pointed to a nearby Baptist church, and soon we were standing in an orderly marketplace on a plot of pine and grass. Here I saw the first arrays of glassware, the first piles of free naked dolls, the dubbed VHS tapes, the loose silverware, the lines of floating dresses.
This couldn’t be a contiguous sale — or could it? The Facebook group I’d joined suggested that Michigan was the sparsest section. But even here, we could hardly drive a quarter mile without spying a Sharpied invitation to a “Barn Sale” a mile away, or “Thousands of Items, CHEAP, 4th House on Your Left.” A subtle terror began to take hold — a respect for the enormous scale of the thing.
Ms. Waldman also shares observations about the people and places she encountered while traveling the route of the sale:
Mennonites became fixtures of the sale. They sold traditional items: dilly beans, horse-churned ice cream, fresh-cut flowers, wooden carvings and a heartbreaking number of puppies. Their children were shy but excitable in the face of so many nonbelievers. Among the piles of pilled Lycra blends and polyesters, their plain dress stood out. It read as luxury, utilitarian haute couture. I bought myself a bonnet at one of their stands. Nodding approvingly, the seller informed me: “Most of our customers are defiant women.”
Deep in farm country, the pull of northern industrial towns could still be felt. One couple had a baroque volume of German sausage recipes, published by the Oscar Mayer corporation. The owners knew it was one of their prize pieces. The husband grew up in Wisconsin near one of the sausage conglomerate’s biggest factories and told me that it shut down a few years back. There were only a few copies left, he said.
The number of sales increased in Kentucky. People were friendly, chatty, open about everything but their politics. The church may reign supreme here, but people don’t pretend to be purists. They’re frank about their lapses and relapses. I heard people telling their neighbors, friends and perfect strangers about treatment centers for opioid addiction, about loved ones struggling through it, about those who didn’t make it and where their graves are.
Sometimes the friendliness and good humored conversation masked an anxiety about making a sale. My boyfriend flirted with buying a chicken-shaped fan, discounted because of its missing tail. The two women selling it — good-humored friends who had helped each other through a series of hardships — were proud of the piece, and disappointed when we left without it. “We’ve only made $8 so far,” they said. They had a bunch of photo frames for sale, one of them containing a sign for a diaper raffle. A sign over another stall advertised “Old Bottles and Basset Hound Puppies.” The seller’s son held one of the fat-bellied puppies — $450 each — tenderly in his lap, sad to see them go. A nearby needlepoint wall hanging, listed for 50 cents, read: “Friends are the best collectibles.”
Students, read the entire article and look carefully at the accompanying photos, and then tell us:
Based on what you read and saw, do you want to go to the 127 Yard Sale next year? Why or why not? Would you want to travel all 690 miles of it, like Ms. Waldman did? What details from the article or from the photographs interest you the most? Why?
What has been your most notable secondhand acquisition, whether you bought it at a yard sale, found it on a resale site or were given it by a family member or friend? What do you love about it?
What do you enjoy about the experience of secondhand shopping? For you, is it about the bargain prices, the unique finds, the low environmental impact or something else? If you’ve never done this sort of shopping before, would you like to? Why or why not?
Have you ever sold any of your own items secondhand, such as at a neighborhood garage sale, at a consignment store or online? Would you want to participate in a massive multistate event like the 127 Yard Sale?
Have you ever encountered interesting people or places on a secondhand shopping adventure that you might not have otherwise, as Ms. Waldman did at the 127 Yard Sale? If so, tell us about a memorable experience.
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.