By Mara Certic
For some, the beginning of summer on the East End is marked by the efflorescence of honeysuckle, the smell of sunscreen and the sound of car horns. But for me, it’s when fluorescent signs advertising garage, yard or tag sales start to show up along roads, stapled to weathered telephone poles, and directing drivers to gold mines of tchotchkes.
Across the country, yard sales are a great, usually underrated, way to get an insane bargain on something you have absolutely no use for — just last week I bought a beautiful birdcage from a backyard in East Hampton for $8. Needless to say I don’t have a bird nor do I own any other cage-able creature, but that didn’t stop me. On the other hand sometimes you find those items you’ve been hunting for for years: a centerpiece that’ll fit on your weird narrow table, a belt that perfectly matches your favorite shoes, or a rug that’ll tie the whole room together.
On the East End, for the most part, yard sales are really top notch. There’s the occasional dud, of course, but following cardboard signs down a driveway is my preferred way to shop for home goods — and even if you find nothing to buy, it will give you a fascinating glimpse into someone’s cupboards and drawers. And here on the East End, there are some pretty fascinating cupboards and drawers.
Interesting furniture, paintings and sculptures can often be found for cheap in the overflowing garages of the artists who call the East End home, while polished antiques and fine linens are on the market at tag sales in larger sales going on the market, and hand-crafted fishing lures can be found in the smallest and humblest of sales.
It can be difficult to go shopping for something specific at yard sales because there’s no catalogue, no online inventory, but thanks to changing trends, a need to be in and the booming real estate market, certain things are easy to find, such as kitchen and dining utensils. My bargain-boasting and pride was at an all-time-high earlier this summer when I decided I needed to challenge myself, and further hone the deal-hunting skill passed down to me by my New Jersey forefathers.
Given a budget of $100, what could I buy? Probably not a bedroom set, or a complete library, but probably some dishes, I thought. Definitely dishes. And more. So I set myself the challenge of buying everything necessary to set a table for a formal dinner for four with just $100.
In my life, all adventures in yard sales start out the same way: with a cup of coffee, a red pen and the classifieds pages of a local paper. Most ads for this sort of sale will give you some vague idea of what to expect: appliances, no kids stuff, furnishings, artwork, but a good rule of thumb is that tag or estate sales will have more complete sets of dishes than their bric-à-brac filled garage or yard counterparts.
And so I began my quest at an estate sale in Water Mill organized by Carol McCormack of Harbor Estate Sales, where I was drawn to four blue-stemmed wine glasses. On another table nearby were four hand-painted, ornate blue, orange and gold plates, and below those were French-made cotton napkins that themselves had never been used and the most beautiful, dainty blue and silver-plate salt and pepper shakers. The blues matched perfectly. It was one of those perfect serendipitous second hand finds, but the shakers alone were $20. Did I want to spend a fifth of my budget on something so small?
Of course I did. But that meant tightening my purse strings for the rest of the challenge, at yard sales around the area I found other key details for the table — a $1 vase in Springs became my centerpiece and for another dollar I got a carafe for wine.
The real deals were found at the semi-permanent sales: the rummage sale at the Montauk Community Church which is held every summer Saturday and where I found a box of cups, saucers, plates, soup bowls, smaller bowls, and bread plates for $10. Bonac Buy and Sell was another great find — its giant yard sale permanently set up off of Springs Fireplace Road where haggling reigns supreme.
Many hours, countless yard sales and $82 later, my table was set, I had money left over, my pride was intact and I had serious bragging rights. So next time you find yourself driving past a hand-scrawled sign pointing out a backyard market, do yourself a favor and check it out. You never know what treasures you’ll find.
Four hand-painted plates from a Harbor Estate Sale in Water Mill. $20.
100% Cotton napkins made in France. $4.
Glass and silver plate salt and pepper shakers. $20.
Four blue-stemmed wine glasses. $8.
A blue china vase from a yard sale in Springs. $1.
A carafe. $1.
Spanish glass candlesticks from Bonac Buy & Sell. $5 for the pair.
Box of Arcoroc glass dishes including six plates, bowls, small bowls, cups, sauces, bread plates from the Montauk Community Church. $10 for everything.
Four forks, knives, soup spoons, teaspoons and butter knives from the rummage sale. $5.
Moroccan beaded napkin rings. $5.
White cotton damask table cloth. $3.
Bottle of Stonecrop rose for dinner $17.
Grand total: $99