Mother’s Day weekend won’t be the same for 69-year-old James Gillespie since the massive Johnsville neighborhood garage sale in Blaine he’s attended for 40 years was called off because of the pandemic.
“My mom was a fanatic and would stop at every garage sale, and I’m the same way. Every time I see one, I stop,” he said.
Scores of community garage sales, a surefire staple of spring, have been canceled or postponed across the metro area and state because of the coronavirus. Garage sales aren’t banned per se by Gov. Tim Walz’s orders, but social gatherings outside immediate families are prohibited until restrictions are lifted.
Chrysa Duran, who annually compiles a list of garage sales statewide on her Thrifty Minnesota blog, said sales are usually held rain or shine. But the pandemic was a new and unexpected factor.
Up until about three weeks ago, Duran said, garage sale organizers and chambers of commerce were asking to be included in her roundup. Then she noticed a few cancellations. It wasn’t long before most early-season sales were called off or pushed back to the fall.
“It really wasn’t a surprise because larger events in general are canceled and some of these sales can get really crowded,” Duran said. “They can easily get 20 to 30 people, and that’s not what we’re looking for with social distancing.”
Few compare to Blaine’s Johnsville neighborhood annual sale, with hundreds of homes participating on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. It’s a “mini State Fair,” said Gillespie’s daughter, Jennifer Bolte, with food trucks, port-a-potties and thousands of bargain hunters navigating with maps in hand.
The 2020 Jonathan Annual Festival of Garage Sales in Chaska has been postponed, and the 100 Mile Garage Sale that spans river towns in the Lake Pepin area of Minnesota and Wisconsin set new dates for September. Up in Duluth’s Park Point neighborhood, the annual rummage sale slated for June has been canceled.
Little Canada has a well-attended garage sale, Duran said, that hasn’t yet been officially canceled. Other cities like Oakdale have chosen not to promote their annual citywide garage sale, instead letting residents plan sales at their own discretion.
Duran said garage sales are yet another anticipated seasonal event that’s been derailed by the pandemic. But there is a silver lining, she said.
“When we have more of an economic downturn, garage sales are a lot better because people need to make money and more people are shopping because they need bargains,” she said. And there’s a better selection because more sales items have accumulated in the meantime, she said.
Before the pandemic, the biggest issue facing this year’s Blaine garage sale was liability concerns. City officials told Johnsville organizers they needed a special-event permit to shut down streets, advertise the sale and accommodate the crowds. Organizers decided to opt out, but residents were still free to sell items from their garages and driveways.
Then came the coronavirus. Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany asked Johnsville neighbors to suspend garage sales until further notice. He said there’s a risk of transmission even at a smaller-scale sale, but Johnsville typically draws a crowd that would make social distancing impossible. He said that he would issue citations if necessary and that the city attorney would be “comfortable prosecuting” violators.
“It is packed. It’s not one or two cars in front of a house. It’s a massive undertaking for a corner of our city,” Podany said.
Molly Hakko, 39, grew up in the Johnsville neighborhood and said garage sales there are common, especially on Mother’s Day weekend. She moved back into her childhood home after her mother died of cancer shortly after last year’s sale, and she was looking forward to hosting it this spring for the first time on her own.
“It’s just really disappointing,” Hakko said. “I feel like that was a big part of my childhood, and then the timing losing my mom, and now I feel like all these things keep getting taken away from me. So it’s kind of tough timing.” Another big annual garage sale, in Bloomington at the home of former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, was canceled before the pandemic disrupted daily lives.
Grant, soon to be 93, has hosted the sale for more than a decade and began publicizing it on social media in 2014. He usually started by rounding up items over the winter for what he always dubbed his “final” garage sale.
But Pat Smith, Grant’s partner, said she’s glad they called it quits after last year’s sale. Canceling the sale this year, she said, would have left “a house full of disarray and stuff sitting around.”
“Thankfully we made that decision before the virus made the decision for us,” Smith said. “It turned out to be a good decision because the virus would’ve ended it.”