In 1979, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was spinning on record turntables. Young people were excited about a new portable cassette player called The Walkman. And in New York’s Adirondacks, in a quiet town along the Hudson River, an outdoor flea market was born that would soon be dubbed “The World’s Largest Garage Sale.”
On Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 5-6), when autumn foliage is expected to be near or at peak, 50,000 people are expected to jam downtown Warrensburg for the 40th annual event.
“We’re a regular, four-season community just like anywhere else in the world, except for this one weekend when we have a giant garage sale,” says Suzanne Tyler, executive director of the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce.
Founded and organized by the chamber, the Warrensburg Garage Sale is the group’s largest fundraiser, and along with Americade and the Adirondack Balloon Festival, is among the top three events in Warren County.
Earlier this month, Tyler chatted with The Daily Gazette about the super sale:
Q: Is this really the world’s largest garage sale?
A: “The world’s largest garage sale” is a nickname. We’ve actually had inquiries from the “Guinness Book of World Records” but it’s never been officially noted. It probably came from the early days, and the name just kind of stuck. It is the largest townwide sale in Warren County, in upstate New York, even maybe the Northeast.
Q: How big is it?
A: We estimate it at five square miles of sales. We have over 500 commercial vendors and probably over 100 residential sales.
Q: How did it get started?
A: It started as a fundraiser. A few of the [Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce] members cleaned out their basements and garages and they brought it all to, what was at the time, the IGA grocery store on the first weekend of October. The next year, the high schoolers got involved, and they used it as a fundraiser too. They sold concessions, like popcorn. The next year, more people from town wanted to join in. Year after year, it got bigger and bigger.
Q: How has it changed in recent years?
A: There’s newer merchandise now. It’s changed from “we’re just going to sell household items, traditional odds and ends” to a couple hundred commercial vendors that sell anything you can imagine, whether it be handcrafted jewelry, pottery or tools or clothes. But we still have lots of antiques and collectibles. We have a lot of everything.
Q: What about food?
A: We have a lot of food, whatever you’re looking for. The food vendors love to come here, especially now with the trend of food trucks. Some people just come for the food and they eat their way through town. I’ve seen an increase in artisanal vendors selling small batches of special foods like cheese and marinades.
Q: What’s your favorite?
A: The Greek truck. I really look forward to my gyro every year.
Q: Where do the shoppers come from?
A: We obviously get our locals from all over the area, from as far south as Albany, and as far north as Plattsburgh. But we also get them from Vermont, New Jersey, Long Island and Pennsylvania. We have three, even four, generations of families that have been coming back every year.
Q: How much money does the event pump into the local economy?
A: About $2 million of off-season revenue. This is the largest off-season event.
Q: What do people love about this event?
A: People love the thrill of the hunt, whether it’s old stuff or new stuff. Especially in this era of online shopping, the joy of shopping --- seeing it, feeling it, looking at it --- that’s why it’s stayed relevant, even as we go further into the digital world. But it’s also just being in the Adirondacks on a lovely fall weekend.
Q: How do you personally have fun at the sale?
A: I’m a shopper and “junker,” so I love looking through everything. I like being able to go to one place and see a lot of stuff. And there are deals to be had. We can barter, I can work you down on the price. I enjoy that.
Q: What’s fun for children?
A: The kids can find face painters. They love looking through the toy vendors. And there’s a ton of kid food. Everything on a stick that you can imagine.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen for sale?
A: This random antique dealer had a whole collection of these dummy heads, for phrenology, the study of bumps on your head. It was super freaky. He had so many of them. They ranged from $50 for the complicated ones to $5 for the beat-up ones.
Q: What would Mike and Frank from the reality TV show “American Pickers” think of this event?
A: They would appreciate the spirit of it and the variety and availability of items in one place. Even if you are not buying, it’s always interesting to look and just see what’s out there.
Q: Other garage sale trends?
A: I’ve gotten a lot of calls, especially this year, from regular people who want to clean out their basements. I think it’s just generational, it’s baby boomers who are either downsizing or have inherited a whole bunch of stuff. They want to come to the sale and sell their stuff.
Q: If you are going for the first time, what should you bring?
A: First and foremost, comfy shoes. Expect to do a lot of walking. I would bring re-usable bags to carry your purchases, or if you plan to buy a lot of stuff, bring a shopping wagon. And if there’s something you want, 99 percent of the vendors are willing to keep it for you until the end of your shopping day. Bring cash. A lot of the vendors do use Square or take credit cards, but usually you can get a bit of a discount with cash. And we do run out of broadband up here and those transactions may take longer.
Q: What if it rains?
A: It’s a rain or shine event. We encourage people to come in the rain. We’ll be here. The vendors will be here.
Q: Has the garage sale ever not happened?
A: I don’t know of any year that it hasn’t happened. And the only time I ever heard there was low attendance was after 9/11.
40th Annual Warrensburg Garage Sale
WHEN: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, and 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
WHERE: Warrensburg, Warren County
HOW MUCH: Admission is free. Parking at Warren County Fairgrounds and shuttle to downtown Warrensburg is also free. There is limited paid parking in town. At the garage sale, shoppers are welcome to ride a free bus and get off and on at different stops on a map.
MORE INFO: The map is available on the shuttle, at warrensburgchamber.com and on Facebook on the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce and World’s Largest Garage Sale pages. For updates and other information, click “Garage Sale Info” on chamber website or call (518) 623-2161.