At 8:30 on a Friday morning, a slow-moving car coasts to the curb on an Edina street and comes to a stop near a handmade sign that reads: "Sale here." The couple inside look out their car window, eyeing the wares. Finally, she gets out; he keeps the car running.
"Do you mind if I look a little early?" the woman asks the seller, who's still unpacking boxes of newspaper-wrapped glasses.
"How else am I going to get rid of all this stuff?" says Patti Sly with a laugh.
From April to October, similar scenes are repeated in yard after yard, across the Twin Cities, as the great Minnesota junk-together joins wary throngs of buyers and weary sellers.
Sly, a veteran garage sale host, knows how to strike the uneasy balance between getting rid of stuff and earning enough money to make a garage sale worth the trouble.
This time around, she's co-hosting a sale at her brother's house. Her castoffs are arranged thematically on banquet tables on the double-wide driveway -- electric waffle maker and panini grill, lacy kitchen curtains and mauve tea towels circa 1980, assorted VHS movies, 50 cents each.
The one surprise -- and every garage sale has at least one -- is Sly's collection of 40 porcelain doll molds displayed in boxes on the lawn. After carting the bulky forms up and down the basement stairs from sale to sale with few takers, she's decided not to price them at all. Maybe someone will shoot her a lowball offer. "I'm hoping someone will just take them off my hands," she said. "They're heavy and I'm tired of moving them."
By 9:30, half a dozen lookers have quietly, methodically scrutinized the tables. Few bother to say much more than a weak "hello," as if getting too familiar might somehow obligate them to make a purchase.
After inspecting the doll molds, Carol Janson of St. Paul smiles and turns away. At this point in her life, the retiree says she still feels the thrill of the hunt, but rarely lays her money down.
"I don't need anything anymore," she said. "This is free entertainment."