This marks the 25th year The World’s Longest Yardsale has presented capitalism in its rawest, purest form. No middlemen. No advertising campaigns. No impulse buys set up in the checkout lanes. No catalogues or Internet commons. Just thousands of buyers and sellers wheeling and dealing face to face in the dust and the heat and exhaust fumes for four days along U.S. 127, from Addison, Mich., through Mercer, Boyle, Lincoln and Casey counties, to Gadsden, Ala., a marketplace that stretches 690 miles.
“This is everything,” says antique vendor Louis Eubank of Danville, who is set up at the Boyle County Fairgrounds, renting a space for $20 a day. “There could be a guy with tube socks right next to us. There’s army surplus over there. China. That guy makes things out of tobacco sticks.”
Eubank and his wife, Wilma, are professionals. Wilma had an antique store in Georgetown for 20 years, and they still travel to about 10 antique shows a year. Even though the fairgrounds is just a few blocks from their home on Secretariat Drive, this is only the second year the Eubanks have participated in the sale.
“Sometimes you need to clean out your inventory,” Wilma says of their strategy of trying to move some of their smaller, low-end items that have been around awhile to the sale crowd.
“Everything is negotiable. Everything needs a new home,” Louis pitches to those who wander close.
There’s money in it, too, though Louis isn’t keen on talking specifics.
“That’s not something you reveal,” he says. “Let’s just say it was profitable last year.”
Bill and Bonnie Zearing, who own a used furniture shop near Madison, Ind., are at the fairgrounds for the fourth time. They load up their pickup truck and 12-foot covered trailer, which doubles as their bedroom at night, and make the 150-mile trip to a place where they know they’ll find a captive audience looking to spend a little money.
“This is the only place we set up,” Bill says. “I actually do pretty good here. We always walk away with pretty good money, a couple a grand each time. That’s pretty good.”
Bill attends yard sales and flea markets throughout the year to stock his business, picking up items he figures he can sell for just a bit more than he paid for them. He usually accumulates more than his shop will hold, so the annual 127 sale is a way to cull his inventory or, as Bonnie says, “just get rid of some of the crap.”
“We all got something in common, all of us out here,” Bill says. “I don’t know what it is, exactly. Maybe it’s the anticipation of making a buck or two. It’s like gambling. I quit drinking 20 years ago. This is my addiction now, and it’s almost as bad as the alcohol.”
Addiction is probably not the right word to describe Westside Community United Methodist Church’s relationship to the sale, but the congregation has grown heavily dependent on the annual event to fund the church’s good works.
Located just above Hustonville about 12 miles south of Danville, Westside has become a popular stop for shoppers who want to browse a parking lot full of items donated by the congregation and then grab a fresh-off-the-grill ribeye sandwich or piece of homemade pie in the church basement where the tables are decorated with sunflowers.
“We went through 40 pies a day last year,” says Nancy Wilcher, president of the church women’s group. Also 85 pounds of pulled pork and 1,200 pounds of ribeye, grilled by Troy Ellis, leader of the men’s group. About 30 church members work the sale each year, Thursdays through Saturdays. The church has other business to tend to on Sundays.
Last year, Westside earned a profit of just more than $8,000, with yard sale items and the kitchen each chipping in about $4,000.
All of that money goes to support the church’s mission work, which includes Haiti and the Henderson Settlement in Eastern Kentucky, as well as delivering meals to shut-ins, packing up food baskets for the holidays and backpacks when school starts up, and sending kids to summer camp.
“It’s huge for our mission work,” says pastor Ken Hughes.
The church has been participating in the 127 sale for eight years, drawing more people each year. Actress Mare Winningham and her daughter stopped in a couple of years ago, Wilcher points out.
Though not a celebrity, Lana Houk of Green County calls herself the “Yardsale Queen” and hits U.S. 127 every year in search of old furniture she can bring back to life with new paint. Along with husband, Dale, Houk says their annual shopping spree is built around a visit to Westside.
“We always want to get here to shop and take a break,” Houk says. “They always have great food and great facilities.”