Families looking for extra income to help brave the stormy economy may want to take a look in the backs of their bedroom closets or the dusty corners of their garages. Those tight-fitting clothes, that rusty lawnmower could earn some extra bucks at a yard sale.
Hundreds more families this year are peddling wares on their front lawns or driveways. Yard sale listings across the country are up. Garage sale postings on Craigslist, one of the Internet's top sites for classified ads, rose 200 percent over the past two years.
Traffic to YardSaleSearch.com, a portal for potential sellers and bargain hunters, is up 16 percent from last year. And organizers of events such as the annual "World's Longest Yard Sale" -- a 654-mile bargain-fest in early August that stretches from Alabama to Ohio -- say more homes and communities are getting involved.
Similarly, Ray Saval, an organizer of the "100-Mile Yard Sale" held in mid-July in rural north-central Pennsylvania, reported that they added another 15 to 20 vendors this year.
"It keeps growing. It's actually 120 miles. ... With every phone call it got longer," joked Fawn Sensenig, who works with Saval in setting up the annual Pennsylvania event organized by the Quehanna Industrial Development Corp.
Organizers don't keep count of how many people come to the sale, though the normally desolate intersection outside the tiny town of Karthaus looked like the parking lot of a suburban strip mall during Christmas shopping season on the first day of this year's event.
Cars were tightly packed into rows, with more vehicles hugging the shoulders of the roads, as prospective visitors shopped for bargains.
It was a smaller, but similar scene five miles north of town, where cars lined the driveway and the road outside of Mary Ann Couteret's home to peruse old clothes of her four children, which were folded neatly on tables.
Couteret works for the state and because of the budget impasse in the Pennsylvania Legislature, hasn't received her normal paychecks in recent weeks. The family cut out a beach vacation to save money, and will use the money from the yard sale to help pay for new clothes for the children for school.
"I don't have to worry so much about what I'm spending because this is a big help," said Couteret, who has taken part in the sale for several years. "We keep prices low. The lower you go, the more you get rid of."
Yard sale organizers or promoters don't know exactly why more people are getting involved, though they suspect it's in large part due to the economy.
"More recently, I've noticed a lot of sales mentioning downsizing or moving from a house to an apartment. I don't remember as many sales in the past mentioning that nearly everything in the house was for sale, so that might imply desperation or foreclosure in some cases," Joel Risberg, Webmaster for YardSaleSearch.com, wrote in an e-mail.
There's an added benefit for mass-organized events such as the "World's Longest Yard Sale" -- the hope is that all those thrifty shoppers will turn the trip into a weekend-long vacation, filling up hotel rooms and dining at restaurants.
The Alabama-to-Ohio yard sale is one of the best known in the country, with attendance estimated in the hundreds of thousands, said Leann Houston, tourism director for the Fentress County, Tenn., Chamber of Commerce, which handles marketing for the event.
"It's an opportunity to get people off the interstate into rural areas," Houston said. "What we hope to accomplish is to get people here to see what we have."
In Karthaus, retiree Ray Lyons set up a tent and several tables full of used DVDs, Matchbox cars and other collectibles to peddle at the 100-mile sale. After attending as a shopper for the last seven years, Lyons, 65, of Howard, said he thought attendance had increased so much during that time he would try selling his own stuff.
Typically, Lyons and his wife, Alice, make between $700 and $1,000 at yard sales, but this year it's been closer to the upper end of the scale -- and that's after having cut prices on some items to generate more business.
"Oh yeah, we reduced prices on a lot of this stuff," he said. "I think people are going for more bargains because they can't afford it otherwise."