THE BLOG
07/21/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

How to Get to Know Your Neighbors? Have a Stoop Sale

For TueNight.com by Margit Detweiler

It almost didn't happen. Our Brooklyn co-op's summer stoop sale was scheduled for Saturday, aligning with our basement clean-up, so that we could really get rid of crap.

We placed an ad on Craigslist. We created an event on Facebook. We made flyers. We boxed up our unwanted junk. Nothing like a stoop sale to force you to go through every inch of your home, dividing and pricing your life's accumulations into:

1. A few rare, '80s new wave albums that, unless someone gives me $100 for them, are heading back into my collection. You never know, I still might listen.

2. A printer that still kind of works. Someone might want it for $30.

3. Orphaned cell phone chargers. Books that didn't sell at the last stoop sale. Strange, red boot-sneakers I'd bought at another stoop sale. $1 each.

4. Old baking pans. If someone can haul these away, my karmic load will lift and I will be able to live life unencumbered. Just take them.

5. Trash.

But it rained, so we cancelled it. Bummer.

The next morning, barely any sunnier, but at least not drizzling, I was on my way to get coffee, when I got a text from my co-op mate Rachel. She asked, "Was there any thought of having the stoop sale today? There may be showers later in the afternoon... but right now they're predicting rain for next weekend as well...  Just thought I'd ask..."

In her various ellipses I heard a twinge of desperation.

Rachel, a working mom of a two-year-old, had probably already rummaged through outgrown baby clothes, toys and pregnancy books, stuffing everything into big boxes, prepped and ready to move on to the next stage of her life.

I wasn't wrong.

Once I returned, there, at the bottom of our stairs, were four big cardboard boxes marked Infant, 6 Months, 12 Months, Junk.

"Ok Rachel," I texted her back. "Let's rally."

Our co-op president Matt made the calls to our co-op neighbors, my husband remade a flyer by pasting "Sunday!" over "Saturday!" and within 30 minutes we had set up our wares.

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Photo: TueNight

For as long as I could accumulate stuff, I've been a fan of the stoop sale. The stoop falls in the pantheon of affection for thrift stores, flea markets and other resale outlets. You never know, the things someone leaves behind might be something you've been looking for all your life -- or something you never knew you needed.

Since the late '80s, my good Philly friend Shelly, a veritable thrift store-flea market genius, has been my partner in "the find" crime. Her patience to sift through musty bins always outlasts mine. While we were both students at Penn State, we'd jump into Shelly's red VW and head to Bellefonte, PA to score vintage housedresses and suede jackets. Once back in Philly, we'd head to Zern's, an auction and farmer's market in Gilbertsville, PA, where we discovered Shelly's first Elvis lamp (yes, I said first).

Eventually, however, we'd want to get rid of this junk, and that usually happened at a stoop sale.

Like Brooklyn, Philadelphia had plenty of perfect stoops: Cement or red brick stairs that you plop down on whilst sipping a soda, waiting for people to stroll by and spot your amazing -- and probably dusty -- wares.

At a stoop sale, your personal items become topics for instant discussion. "Oh, wow, I haven't seen this record in years.... Why on earth are you getting rid of your Anais Nin collection." (You will almost always find Anais Nin at a stoop sale.) It's much more than giving away goods -- it's a chance to interact at a weirdly deep level.

On this fine Sunday, we huddle on our particular concrete slab in the hazy sunshine. Trees wave, pollen blows, birds chirp, neighbors amble by. We'd almost forgotten about this bit of nature in Brooklyn.

Couples on their way to brunch stop to sift through my neighbor's feminist collection. They talk as if you're not sitting right there, you've become another shop, albeit an outdoor one.

"Honey, you have this already don't you?"

Sometimes they make eye contact to say hello, sometimes all they want to do is talk, sometimes it's about the art of the deal.

One man told me he had been there yesterday in the rain, assuming we were an all-weather type of outfit. He offered to untangle all my jewelry if I sold him two necklaces for $5. Sure, why not.

Another man asked if I had any CDs for sale, as advertised on Craigslist. Since we hustled to make this sale happen, I didn't factor in enough time to pour through my CD collection.

"Don't you have anything?"

I recognize this man as the stoop sale/ flea market addict who knows to arrive early, before the boxes are emptied, and ask for what he doesn't see. He left but then strolled back again and chided me for promising something I couldn't deliver.

Feeling horribly guilty, I asked my husband to watch our stuff and I went upstairs, spent five minutes pulling out CDs I never listen to: a Roky Erickson (don't judge me), Dirty Three, various compilation albums and a Lil' Kim promo single. He bought nothing and left with a disgusted look.

A white-haired woman in a bright purple Lambda Legal defense fund t-shirt and Birkenstocks wanders through our goods as if she's stumbled into an exotic Moroccan street fair.

"Oh this dress is divine, the fabric," she paws it gently and moves on to, "is this your book on homeopathy?" (It is not, I don't know where it came from.) "It's one of the best!"

Then she picks up my never-worn, stoop-sale bought red shoes (yes, yes, yes! I shout inside my head). "Oh these red shoes are kick-ass. I must have them." That's what I'd said too. Ah, the circle of stoop life.

Her name is Anne, she is South African and, for the last 20 years, has lived just up the street. I ask her if she's with the Lambda Legal defense fund, per her t-shirt. She says, "No, it's just a t-shirt I got from marching in the Gay Pride parade."

"And I'm not in the Soviet Union Sailing Club..." says our neighbor Matt, pointing to his t-shirt.

"And I'm not a member of the Nueva York Knicks," I say.

"And I'm not in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band," says my husband.

Brooklynites and their t-shirts, we all laughed.

*

A few tips to the neighborhood stoop:

  • Jewelry always sells well. Whether it's real silver or junk, it always goes. Leather goods, decent record albums (more so than CDs) and electronic stuff are good bets.

  • You'll sell things you never expected to sell. I sold five-year-old sneakers for 25 cents. A neighbor sold a weathered old Dan Brown book for $5.  FIVE DOLLARS. I'm of the "Take it For a Dollar And Make It Go Away" ilk, but some neighbors try to make a real profit. Good on them.

  • Remember that the people you're selling to live right near by. A neighbor sold his X-Box 360 for $50 to guy who ran the coffee shop down the street. Barista emailed him an hour later, angrily informing him that the system didn't work because it was missing a few cords. Our neighbor couldn't find the cords, but then coffee guy told us he sold the console at Game Stop for double the money.

  • Clothes are a really tough sell. People can't try them on and displaying well-worn dresses and shirts on a wrought-iron fence rarely looks appealing.

  • Beware of your own temptation to buy. I couldn't resist my neighbor's '80s breakdancing book for my brother.

  • Know what to charge. My neighbors had to run out to do an errand and left me to sell their stuff. I made the best deals I could, but they seemed irritated that I sold their coffee pot for $1. Also, I started getting confused as to which of my four jean pockets was designated for which neighbor. Oops.
  • Do you make a killing at a stoop sale? Almost never. This time I was $100 richer. A good day. But more importantly I got rid of boxes and boxes of junk. (Half of it because we called Task Rabbit to take the rest to the Salvation Army). I even sold my printer -- at a haggler's price of $20.

    But it was GONE. Out of my life. Priceless.

    The guy who bought it lived down the street, said he could probably fix it to work just fine. He gave me his card, should I ever need anything else to be fixed.

    It's this moment that I love the most about a stoop sale. A little bit of casual, neighborly conversation -- that's the real find.

    You can find more articles by Margit on TueNight and on Twitter @Margit.

    About TueNight:
    TueNight is a weekly online publication for women to share where they've been and explore where they want to go next. We are you, part two. www.tuenight.com