Friday, August 17, 2001

Buyers cross state lines for yard sale

'World's Longest Garage Sale' proves everyone loves a bargain

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] In MainStrasse Village Thursday, Trisa High of Covington inspects an array of glassware and decorative items.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        COVINGTON — Some yard-sale fanatics will do anything for a bargain — even plan their vacations around the annual 450-mile treasure hunt, the “World's Longest Garage Sale.”

        “We yard-sale all the time, and we enjoy it,” said Mendy Roebuck of Blairsville, Ga., as she shopped her way home from Covington's MainStrasse Village on Thursday with a friend, Ruthanne Rabeau of Blairsville. “For us, this is the ultimate sale.”

        The two women, who began planning their trip a year ago, left families and part-time jobs behind Tuesday to make the eight-hour drive to Florence, where Ms. Roebuck's parents live.

        Starting in Covington's MainStrasse Village at 7 a.m. Thursday and armed with lists of dozens of items, the two women vowed to shop as many vendors as possible along the U.S. 127 corridor (better known as Dixie Highway, U.S. 25, and U.S. 42 in Northern Kentucky) by the time the 15th annual sale ends at 6 p.m. Sunday.

        During the four-day sale, the Blairsville shoppers are expected to be joined by an estimated 400,000 bargain hunters as they descend on dozens of rural towns in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. (From Covington, the next closest cluster of vendors is 12 miles south on U.S. 42 in Union.)

        Starting at the Sixth Street islands in Covington, the sale follows U.S. 127 through Kentucky and Tennessee to the Lookout Mountain Parkway in Chattanooga. From there, signs direct shoppers to Gadsden, Ala.

        The sale had its origin in 1987, when Fentress County, Tenn., civic leader Mike Walker saw it as a way to lure tourists off the more heavily traveled interstates and help them rediscover small-town America's back roads.

        “To people who do yard sales, this is the Mount Everest,” said Miranda Daniels, tourism director for the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce.

        “It doesn't get much bigger than this.”

        Regular shoppers have been known to rent U-Hauls to cart all their treasures home, Miss Daniels said. Still others, armed with cell phones and Palm Pilots listing the items they're searching for, race from vendor to vendor, frantically swapping information on unique finds.

        In the early days, the sale grew largely by word of mouth, Miss Daniels said. But as shoppers began publicizing the sale on the Internet, it soon started drawing buyers from throughout the United States and foreign countries.

        “It's a great way to meet people,” said Anna Hall, 64, of Union, who had customers from as far as Canada examine her handmade quilts hanging on a front yard clothesline Thursday.

        A mile to the north on U.S. 42 in Union, Joanne Holmstrom of Joanne's Cakes & Catering had erected a sandwich board sign advertising “Coffee, pastries, lunch specials & antiques to go.”

        Inside the 59-year-old woman's nearly year-old business, glass cases filled with cookies, cupcakes and brownies vied for space with friend Sandy Franks' $495 cherry chest of drawers and other assorted antiques.

        “Sandy bought this case for me, so that I could open a bakery and catering business,” Miss Holmstrom said, as a customer ordered a wedding cake. “I guess you could say this all started over a yard sale.”

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