Sale Time in Chelmsford

A troop’s annual yard sale earns money for Scouting and also benefits others far from the Massachusetts location.

If you’re in Chelmsford, Mass., around Mother’s Day and looking for a lawnmower, a wedding dress, or even a giant gumball machine, chances are you can buy one for a song at Troop 74′s yard sale.

The troop, chartered to the Chelmsford Central Congregational Church, held its first sale in 1986. Now, 19 years later, the annual money-earning project is the biggest such sale in town, attracting bargain hunters from as far away as Cape Cod and Vermont.

RAIN OR SHINE

The sale is held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each year on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, rain or shine. For the one-day event, 90 Scouts, parents, and volunteers work year-round to gather, sort, and transport sale items to the church parking lot that the troop transforms into a bargain lover’s paradise.

At last year’s sale, a line of 200 early-bird shoppers curved out of the parking lot, hoping to find some special treasures among the vast selection of sale items.

The troop organizes the sale into eight sections: outdoor equipment, books, toys, housewares, clothes, furniture, electrical equipment, and collectibles.

Last year’s “lucky find” turned out to be a vintage banana seat bicycle, which sold for $225. “Fortunately, someone recognized it as a classic, and we were able to sell it to a collector at a fair price,” said sale co-chairman Ken Van Tassell.

A tally of the 2004 sale revealed that the bulk of the day’s sales came from big-ticket items in the furniture section and nickel-and-dime odds and ends in housewares. Toys, clothing, and electronics were close behind, along with concession sales of soft drinks, hot dogs, and hamburgers to hungry shoppers.

Troop 74 has made good use of the money earned from its yearly sale. They’ve purchased a 10-foot and a 14-foot-long trailer for transporting food and equipment during high adventure outings, paid for adult training and tuition for Scouts to attend Junior Leadership Training Camp, and camperships for Scouts to summer camp.

The troop is considering purchasing a defibrillator with funds from this year’s sale to accompany the group on future outings at remote campsites.

SALES LESSONS

During the week prior to the sale, troop leaders devote a meeting to exercises in bargaining and making change, using role-playing situations between adults and Scouts.

“[The boys] learn about cash management,” said Douglas Drake, sale co-chairman. “We also let them know how important the sale is by telling them how much an activity would have cost them if we didn’t have yard sale money to spend.”

And the boys learn that some people’s castoffs can be useful to others. Unsold clothing is donated to Planet Aid, a nonprofit organization that will deliver the items to developing countries; 20 unsold bicycles will be sent to Africa through the nonprofit organization Bikes not Bombs; and the Salvation Army arrives each year with a 26-foot-long truck the troop loads with leftovers.

Finally, the city of Chelmsford donates a dumpster for the discarding of trash and unusable items at the sale’s end.

Victoria Groves lives in Chelmsford, Mass.


Tips for Successful Yard Sales

If your troop is up for the challenge of running a yard sale, here are a few tips from the experts in Troop 74:

Watch out for liability.
Regulations on items like cribs and car seats change often, so avoid selling potentially unsafe items to your shoppers. Likewise, if you collect televisions or microwaves that don’t sell, you may be charged by your city or town to discard them. This will cut into your profits, so be wary of what you accept.

Stock up on seed money.
Make sure your volunteers have plenty of change for shoppers. In departments where items will be selling for $20, you’ll need change in $5′s and $10′s, but in housewares, where items frequently sell for dimes and quarters, your sellers will need plenty of dollar bills and coins.

Don’t forget your permit.
Many cities and towns require yard sale organizers to apply for a permit. They usually cost $5 to $10 but are often waived for nonprofit organizations like the Boy Scouts.

— V.G.

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