ALONG U.S. 127 — Anybody with any sense knew that Debbie Thompson was selling old cow-milking equipment. But apparently the people looking didn't have any.
Sense, that is. Because they asked Debbie if it was a four-person bong, instead of, you know, a four-udder clip-on device for labor-saving milking.
"I am not fibbing," says Debbie, a woman who could sell just about anything to just about anybody — Deb got $50 for the milkers — as long as they are standing near the barn next to her house, and it's that weekend when all the world thinks U.S. 127 is the open-air antique mega-mall of choice.
Sunday was bargain basement day, since it was the last of the four-day 654-mile long annual Alabama to Ohio treat trek.
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Depending on who you ask, the recession we are weathering is either making it easier to sell things or considerably more tedious.
The Thompsons, James and Debbie, are located in Mercer County near beautiful downtown Salvisa. You could just swing into their lovely lawn by driving over it. You could peruse Vickie Burgin's fine stuff while there, as well. The Thompsons, like we said, had no difficulty making people part with cash. Debbie got $3 for a dog skull she found in her yard. Vickie got $60 for a Plaster-of-Paris crocodile or alligator, she is sure which because she is no herpetologist.
James is not saying people weren't dealing.
"If it were 50 cents, they'd want to know if you'd take a quarter."
"It got to be so I set one woman down," says Debbie, "and me and her had a little talk. I said we have to make some money here, too. Then she paid full price."
Up the road in Anderson County at a big area where there were 31 dealers of stuff, full price is a pipe dream Here, there were more people looking on Sunday, but the business was reportedly a lot slower. And had been all weekend.
Lexington's Lisa Jeter, who was hawking silver jewelry, says people are looking for bargains but ventured that "maybe bargains are the things we don't need."
Still, it hasn't been a bad year, just not a record one.
Cary Greenspon has found it hard to sell quality things this year. His top price for anything in the 500-square-foot breezy covered space he filled to overflowing: $250.
A customer approaches with a small rocking chair. "Does that say $12 or $18?" asks Greenspon when the man points at a worn price tag.
"Well, it sure don't say $18," says the customer.
"Then it says $12," says Greenspon.
That's a new a way of bargaining, the Chicago-based vendor says, laughing.
It's been this way everywhere, not just along the familiar 127 route. "We have done better selling the odd stuff than the good stuff."
Mary Browning is in her sixth year of hot August weekends at this spot. Yes, she says, she has still seen the busloads of tourists dropped on the property and they've still been as nice. She volunteers that, even this year, she's seen every single state's license plate, including Alaska's.
And that woman who flies into Lexington, picks up a truck, fills it and drives back west? "Yup, she was here again. You still see the people in the big cars after the really good stuff, and I love the carloads of the little old ladies who come with their friends and their sisters and who buy one teacup as a souvenir," she says.
"People just aren't spending as much. It could be the stuff."
Behind her is her own new purchase: Sam, a 1950s-era female mannequin with stiff, finely coiffed red hay for hair, that will soon join Mary's other traveling girlfriend, Lola, another mannequin.
Mary's not complaining about the yard sale selling life. Really. A couple hundred dollars a day to stand in the heat, wear your 60 sunscreen and a wet towel around your neck and bargain with people who want to quibble you down from a quarter.
It's OK, recession or no. In fact, if you caught her late enough in the day Sunday, Mary would have given everything away free rather than pack it up.
Except for Sam. She's Mary's new security guard.