Saturday event ‘not just a garage sale, it’s hundreds of garage sales’

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

What: NW’s Largest Garage Sale & Vintage Sale.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 4. Early birds can start at 7 a.m.

Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Cost: General admission $5; children 12 and under free; early bird admission $20; military with ID: $3 for general admission hours; parking: $6.

Skipping out on garage sailing was not an option for the very young Kim Buffum.

“Mom dragged me to garage sales all the time, starting when I was only 3,” Buffum said. “I was such a brat about it. I told her, ‘I’m never making my kids go to garage sales.’ ”

That couldn’t seem more ironic now. Buffum and her husband, David, residents of east Vancouver, have become regional garage-sale mavens and the owners of the Northwest’s Largest Garage Sale & Vintage Sale. That massive gathering takes over the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds all day Nov. 4 — with upwards of 600 different vendor booths serving up a truly indescribable amount of used and handmade stuff.

There are just as many reasons why people sell and shop at this extravaganza of second-handedness. “I’ve heard every kind of story,” Buffum said — starting with what she didn’t realize until much later about her own mother: “It was the only way she could take care of us kids and provide what we needed.”

There’s definitely a garage-sailing demographic — both sellers and shoppers — that does it out of sheer necessity, she said. “Some sellers are doing it for a living. And some shoppers really need it when times are tough,” she said. “You can spend a fraction of what you’d spend at a store and clothe your kids for the winter. Or get pots and pans for your house. Or for your kid who’s going to college.”

For others, garage sailing is fundraising for extras — like one family that was aiming for a trip to Disneyland. “That was not in their household budget” but garage-sale selling put them over the top, Buffum said.

“We did that over years, too,” she added. “We travel every year, and we’ve done it off garage sales.”

Some sellers are just looking to unload too much stuff, of course, and figure this centralized spot is the best way to accomplish that — if not the only way. “I just talked to a lady yesterday who lives in a condo, and she’s not allowed to have a garage sale,” Buffum said. “She rented two spaces.” And then there are people who prefer doing business in a safe, neutral spot like the event center — instead of their own private property.

“There’s nothing worse than somebody standing in your garage saying, ‘Can I borrow your bathroom?’ There are public bathrooms at the event center,” Buffum said, laughing.

And for many, she added, garage sailing is simply social — a great American marketplace for friendships as well as cheap stuff. “We welcome people from all over,” she said. “We have a lot of military in our community, and we offer a military discount. It’s a community event. For some people, it’s a lifestyle.”

The price of entry for sellers is $55 per space, after which they keep all their revenues, Buffum said. The price of entry for shoppers is $5.

“It’s not just a garage sale,” Buffum said. “It’s hundreds of garage sales. You can’t drive to hundreds of garage sales on $5 worth of gas.”

Family business

Kim Buffum said she grew up sailing the soggy garage sales of Portland (under protest), while her husband, David, is a product of the sunny swap meets of Southern California. The couple used to travel to a big Memorial Day and Labor Day flea market in Packwood until David hatched the idea of starting a similar event in Portland.

Buffum thought he was “crazy,” she said. So did managers at the Portland Expo Center, who “kind of laughed at us.” But when an enthusiastic seller from the Packwood flea market sent sufficient cash to rent 10 spaces, Buffum said, “there was no backing out.”

The first event, in 2009, featured 200-plus booths in one corner of the Expo Center. “We sold out and it’s been growing ever since,” Buffum said. Now, there are three events every year — in April, July and November — and they’re all up here in Clark County. July is held partially outdoors, but the April and November events are 100 percent indoors, Buffum said.

The name has changed from Portland’s Largest Garage Sale to The Northwest’s Largest Garage Sale & Vintage Sale and Buffum finds herself working on it full time, she said — along with the help of her daughters and husband, who works as an engineer at Legacy Emanuel hospital in Portland.

“I was just talking to my mother and she was teasing me,” Buffum said. ” ‘You used to hate garage sales, remember?’ “