Bryn Mawr isn’t the only Minneapolis neighborhood that hosts an annual garage sale, but over the course of several decades they’ve turned the Festival of Garage Sales into one of the biggest and best in town.
Officially, the festival is a one-day event hosted by the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association, which posts a list of registered garage sales and sale items on its website a couple of nights before the big day — which this year falls on Saturday, May 7. (Registered sellers pay a fee to BMNA that, among other things, covers the cost of a few strategically placed portapotties.) But some neighbors start their sales on Friday, and many garages are still full of gently used goods on Sunday, so it’s really a weekend-long shopping spree.
It’s also a neighborhood fundraiser. Every year, neighbors who don’t want to host their own garage sale donate items for the BMNA to sell and keep the proceeds.
There’s no official tally, but a good guess is that the festival easily draws thousands when the weather’s nice. In March, the Southwest Journal spoke with Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Coordinator Patty Wycoff learn more about the Festival of Garage Sales and get some insider tips for first-time shoppers.
Southwest Journal: How did the Festival of Garage Sales get its start?
Wycoff: I believe it’s been going on for 25-plus years — maybe even 30 or more, because we’ve lived here 20 years, and we didn’t know anything about the garage sale, and we tried moving into our new house on garage sale weekend. We learned very quickly that, oh my god, we can’t do it. So, instead we went garage-saling and bought stuff for the house.
(Wycoff double-checked after the conversation and learned from a neighbor that the annual garage sale likely dates back even further — to the 1970s. It was originally organized by the Bryn Mawr Childcare Co-op, then run for a stretch by the Boy Scouts before BMNA took over 10–15 years ago, although the neighborhood organization “was always in the background,” Wycoff said.)
How many different garage sales are on the list this year?
The list is not compiled yet, but last year we had 107, maybe, or 101. It’s usually around about 100 people who actually register their garage sales with BMNA. …
I really have to guess it’s probably 150-plus people who have a sale. About one-third do not register.
How do you get so many people to participate every year?
It’s the highlight, for many, of the year in Bryn Mawr, garage sale weekend. If you are not having a garage sale yourself, you are having family and friends come and you’re walking around to garage sales. There are a lot of backyard parties. …
It’s a huge social event. … If (neighbors) don’t like it, they’ll just leave. They’ll get out of town.
Do you know how many shoppers come out in a typical year?
People have tried to make that guess.
One year, and I’m trying to think of how long ago, it was the most gorgeous day. And after that year we decided we needed someone directing traffic, because from the stop sign at Cedar Lake Road and Penn (Avenue South), right in front of Cuppa Java, cars were backed up all the way to (Interstate) 394. And then the exit ramp from 394 to come into our neighborhood, that was backed up. …
That year, I think somebody said that had to be like 10,000 people. I don’t know how you could even guess.
Any tips for first-time shoppers?
Thursday night on bmna.org we post the list of sales. If you are one of those proactive shoppers and you are looking for a certain piece of exercise equipment or a kids’ bike or a treadmill or whatever, you could begin on Thursday night. Go to the website and print the list, and just go through it and highlight the addresses that are selling the kinds of things you’re looking for, and then get there early in the morning.
We don’t advertise the sales beginning until 9 a.m., but we start to organize and set up the BMNA sale at about 6:30 a.m., and at 7 a.m. there are people coming to already trying to look through stuff and make offers. …
So, first-timers, come early. Some people who are having sales do not like that, and other people might say, ‘Come on in and check it out.’
Know where you want to park and which direction you’re going to head to try and find what you want.
Is there a garage sale at your house, or are you too busy organizing the event to do something like that?
My husband, the last couple of years, he has had garage sales at our house. But this year he said absolutely not, even though we have lots of junk.
Tell me about the BMNA sale.
All of the proceeds go into the BMNA general fund. Its part of our reduce, reuse, recycle creed. And so we said if people have a lot of stuff but they don’t want to have a sale … people can just donate to us and we’ll see what we can do. It’s perfect.
They just put whatever they want to donate out on their front steps …, and then volunteers run around and bring the donations to one garage. It’s one neighbor’s garage. They donate their garage every year and it’s in a great location.
Bryn Mawr essentials
Bryn Mawr is the “neighborhood within a park.”
Its northwest border is tucked into Theodore Wirth Park. To the south are Brownie and Cedar lakes. Separating its residential areas from I-394 are the sprawling playing fields of Bryn Mawr Meadows. Bassett Creek runs along the neighborhood’s northern border.
And the green space doesn’t end there. Bryn Mawr is also a neighborhood of passionate gardeners, and for years residents have invited visitors into their backyards during the annual Bryn Mawr Garden Tour, usually held in July.
Neighborhood gathering spaces include Sparks, where a selection of small plates, pizzas and entrees are prepared in a wood-fired oven, and Cuppa Java, a cafe that also serves food, wine and beer and is located in the center of Bryn Mawr’s “downtown.” Downtown is a compact but surprisingly diverse shopping district — yet another reason to visit Bryn Mawr.
Boundaries: Bryn Mawr is on the western edge of Minneapolis, bordering St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. Except for a three-block stretch of Glenwood Avenue, most of its northern border is defined by Bassett Creek. Interstate 394 forms part of the Bryn Mawr’s eastern border before cutting through the neighborhood. The southern border drops as far south as West 24th Street on the west side of Cedar Lake.
How to get involved: The Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association (bmna.org) meets at 7 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month.
Special attractions: Points of interest include the “downtown” Bryn Mawr commercial node around the intersection of Penn Avenue and Cedar Lake Road, as well as Bryn Mawr Meadows, Theodore Wirth Park and the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary.