On the evening before the scheduled opening of the Twenty-fifth Annual West 104th Street Yard Sale, vendors, volunteers, and bargain hunters felt as heady as thoroughbreds rearing back to lunge though the starting gate to the cheers of the crowd and to the reverberating announcement, “And they’re off!”
During the previous months, their spirits withstood a series of scheduling conflicts that pushed the event date into the cooler weeks of autumn. During the previous week, their resolve redoubled as Con Edison blighted the event site with massive ditches hastily covered with steel plates and oversized traffic cones. As dark clouds gathered during the evening before the event, Yard Sale participants threw caution to the wind and readied to storm the curbsides of West 104th and to dig in for a day of hand-to-hand commercial combat.
The following morning, pouring rain and bitter cold argued that discretion is the better part of valor. A contingent dispatched to the local police precinct, which quickly approved a request to reschedule the event on the following day, Sunday, October 12. Rain-soaked postings with the message, “NO PARKING SATURDAY” quickly gave way to crisp signs reading, “NO PARKING SUNDAY.” Word of the rescheduling traveled up and down West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. Block residents heaved a sigh, reassured that months of efforts had not been in vain.
Weeks earlier, as summer turned to fall, residents had inventoried their recyclable treasures and had culled their personal libraries. Some had rented vending spaces to display their cast-off jewelry, clothing, books, games, kitchen tools, toys, and other household items. Others had donated their durable knickknacks to “What-A-Bargain,” their gently used valuables to the Silent Auction, and their neglected volumes to the Book Sale. In the days before the Yard Sale, the neighborhood’s warm hearts and hot ovens had produced an array of delights for the Bake Sale.
While residents had gathered merchandise, the Yard Sale team had obtained the necessary municipal permits to close the street for traffic and to open the block for a community celebration. It had negotiated with musicians and had arranged for staging and amplified sound. It had provided for hot coffee and fresh bagels to kick off activities and for warm pizza and cold soda to maintain momentum. It had solicited local merchants, restaurateurs, and cultural institutions for gift certificates to offer for bid at the Silent Auction. Every evening for weeks, it had set up a table on the corner of West End to sell tickets for the 50/50 Raffle.
On the morning of the Yard Sale, the team members wore navy T-shirts imprinted with the image of our block’s distinctive lampposts, as they swept the curbsides, chalked off the locations of street stalls, persuaded defiant car owners to park on neighboring streets, and posted signs directing the invading armies of volunteers, vendors, and bargain hunters. Meanwhile, vendors hauled boxes up the incline from Riverside Drive; furnished their curbside domains with folding chairs, wobbly tables, and display racks; and unpacked their merchandise. Putting the finishing touches on their displays, they paused to appreciate the crisp autumn air and sunny skies.
By 10:00 AM, the first of thousands of visitors descended the slopes from West End Avenue to inspect the items on display at the stalls lining both sides of West 104th Street. Drifting from stall to stall, shoppers searched for bargains and found a spirit of neighborliness. Vendors closed sales and opened new friendships. To satisfy various appetites, crowds clustered around food, book, and raffle-ticket tables. An urban village emerged from a municipal thoroughfare.
Women paused before mirrors and held up vintage gowns and blouses for consideration. They modeled necklaces, bracelets, and rings for their companions while children shook game boxes and tested the viability of second-hand toys. Men scratched their heads as they inspected items last seen in the hardware stores of their childhoods.
By mid-day, fingers snapped and toes tapped to the subtle stylings of jazz guitarists Joe Giglio and Carl Barry. As the afternoon progressed, neighbors found themselves swaying to the Latin rhythms of Nu D’lux, a Cuban trio featuring guitar, string bass, and tumbadora.
At 5:00 PM, vendors and shoppers joined forces to dismantle displays, to sweep the street, to collect garbage, and to raise a small mountain for the Sanitation Department to haul away. But, they retained their memories.
Some retained a lot more. The lucky winner of the 50/50 Raffle—Edward O’Halloran—took home $1,120.50; second prize winner Randy Turner received $100; and third prize winner Sarah Marmostein collected $50. Overall, the village of West 104th earned some $7,000 to maintain its safe, welcoming street lined with well-tended trees and flowers.