Urban Living - Bounty hunting

Diving into local yard sales

The old adage is true: One person's trash is another's treasure. And if you're strapped for dollars and trying to decorate your humble abode, nothing beats coming across the trove.

Spring, the season that signifies new life, also happens to be the time of year to clean house. Dwellers are purging their closets, attics and basements. You need affordable home decor. No wonder every telephone pole in town seems to advertise a yard, garage, tag or – if you want to up the ante – estate sale.

From picture frames to dining tables, from the 1800s to just last year, yard sales run the gamut of style, price and quality. There's no surefire way to tell which one will have the best cache, but that's what makes it a true hunt.

Seasoned pros often show up before sellers finish setting up. Sometimes, it seems, they get there before sunrise. It's worth coming then, just to take notes on their bargaining skills.

One tip you'll pick up if you eavesdrop: Rather than making an offer, gain bargaining power by asking, "What's the best you could do?"

Throughout the day the choices dwindle. Then again, sometimes the best deals can be found by weaving through the maze during the late afternoon hours.

My two-weekend spree in early April produced quite a stash. Thanks to two bucks I gave an old man in Kirkwood, a shabby-chic, rusted milk carrier will hold vases of flowers on the coffee table. Picture frames found at a modern Midtown home will house retro prints, which have been rolled up and out of sight since their purchase. A gilded mirror that shows its age with brilliant, little cracks was a steal – once I talked the Ormewood Park seller down to $10. In Grant Park, $5 bought a very '80s double-tiered drink caddy with clear glass trays for use as a bathroom accessory holder. And in an impulse buy, I even picked up a pair of by-way-of-cousin-Ted's-rifle antlers from a Virginia-Highland home for a mere $12.

The pièce de résistance was found curbside Sunday night in Morningside after the official hunt had ended. The sign on a mint-condition butcher-block table read "Free." I quickly hauled it into the back of the Jeep. And to think, what will transform a blah kitchen into a cook's haven was left out as garbage.


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