Shopping Alaska’s garage and yard sales

Annie Feidt Sep 9, 2011

Shopping Alaska’s garage and yard sales

Annie Feidt Sep 9, 2011

Bob Moon: When you think of Alaska, what comes to mind? Grizzly bears, maybe? The state’s big oil pipeline? Or perhaps, Sarah Palin?

Many residents of the Last Frontier know Alaska’s short summer season as a big time for… yard sales. As Alaska Public Radio Network’s Annie Feidt explains, that’s because deals in Alaska are hard to beat.

Chuck Graham: The refrigerator, which is stainless steel, an Amana and its great.

Annie Feidt: A refrigerator might not seem like your typical yard sale find. But Chuck and Cindi Graham are not your typical yard sale shoppers. They live in Wasilla, 40 miles from Anchorage. And almost everything in their house came from a yard sale. They take me on a tour.

Chuck: …Also from the inside passage is a light that they replaced lighthouses.

They point out couches, quilts, paintings. They even have a taxidermy grizzly bear. Chuck is especially fond of several pieces of engraved log furniture.

Chuck Graham: They’re all wonderful Alaskan scenes, made out of Alaskan wood and they all were picked up for a fraction of the price at a garage sale.

The Grahams estimate they’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years buying stuff second hand. But they didn’t become dedicated yard-sale shoppers until they retired and moved to Alaska seven years ago. They say the sales in their home state of North Carolina weren’t nearly as good. Cindi says things are different in Alaska, because there’s a constant flow of people moving to and from the state.

Cindi Graham: And they don’t want to take everything with them. And it’s like the last minute and they’ve got to leave and they’ve got to get rid of this stuff, so you can really get good deals from people up here.

Alaska has one of the highest migration rates in the country — about 14 percent of the population turns over each year.

On the way home from Chuck and Cindi’s, I see a sign for a moving sale on the side of the road and can’t resist, even though it’s hard to find a place to park. The place is packed with buyers. The seller, Brian Hansen, says it’s no mystery why.

Brian Hansen: Knowing that somebody’s trying to get rid of at least 90 percent of their stuff. Trying to get rid of it for cheap, you know?

Feidt: so what did you just sell there?

Hansen: A bike, I sold a bike for cheap. Probably about $100 less than what we bought it for. But, you know…

Brian and his wife are moving to France — farther than most. But even for families moving back to the lower 48 — or “outside” in Alaska slang — packing a U-Haul full of belongings is not very practical. The drive to the nearest state, Washington, takes a minimum of three days. It’s a fact that has helped fill the shelves of second-hand stores, like Lazy Dog Antiques in Anchorage. Kathy Dunham is the owner.

Kathy Dunham: A lot of times they don’t want to haul it Outside. You know, it’s expensive to ship something Outside. So they’ll approach us. A lot of times it just comes right in the front door.

But for Chuck and Cindi Graham there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. To study their technique, I join them for a round of yard sale-ing on a recent sunny morning. The first three sales we find are a bust. But then we pull up to the driveway of a fancy house near the mountains in Anchorage.

Chuck: Oooh. I think I’m going to like this one. This is going to be a good one.

The Grahams peruse long tables that stretch out of the garage and into the driveway. They don’t see much until Cindi spies a five-foot tall replica lighthouse perched on a stairway landing above the driveway. It’s not for sale today, but that doesn’t deter the Grahams. Cindi inquires about the lighthouse, and before we know it, she has a deal.

Cindi: I’m getting that big one! $50. I want it.

Chuck: Well, I guess I have to let her have it!

Cindi: It’s beautiful. I’ve been wanting one for my yard. It is gorgeous.

Cindi doesn’t even try to negotiate. $50 seems like too good a deal, and she doesn’t want to push her luck. The home owner is clearly sad to see the lighthouse go. But she’s moving and can’t take it with her. And Chuck and Cindi Graham are more than happy to find room for it at their house.

In Anchorage, I’m Annie Feidt for Marketplace Money.

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