My husband and I are far from being REI Garage Sale experts, but with each sale we are getting better and better at our strategy. REI is a Co-Op / outdoor recreational store and school. It is known for having the best satisfaction and return policy around, excellent outdoor classes, and rewarding member benefits. It is a campers / hikers / bikers/ paddlers / climbers / yogis paradise. Their prices are not always super competitive, but members get a 10% yearly refund on their purchases, exclusive discounts and class prices, and all sales benefit the Co-Op and it’s many stewardship and conservation efforts. Their return policy alone makes it worth paying the slightly higher price, as if you don’t like it, love it, or use it, you have a year to bring it back. Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of this very liberal return policy, but most REI members love their Co-Op and keep it honest.
Items that are returned to REI for whatever reason, and have been used to some degree, get tossed into a magical back room, rolled in golden pixie dust, and put in a bin marked “garage sale.” Once every few months, REI announces that they will be holding their Garage Sale (a.k.a. Attic Sale), and the outdoor nerds (like me!) get all antsy in the pants. The Garage Sale technically starts when REI’s doors open, usually around 8 AM on the day of the sale. Technically. In reality, the party starts the day before, when the real REI groupies show up.
I’ve attended a handful of Garage Sales, arriving anywhere from 10 PM the night before, to 2 PM the day of. Regardless of when I arrive, I always find something that interests me, and it is always a smoking deal. We never actually need anything from these sales, but we enjoy the hunt. For the last few Garage Sales that we have attended, we have tried camping out overnight. On our first overnight adventure, my husband wanted to arrive around 9 PM, and I told him he was nuts. Instead, we arrived around midnight, which I still thought was too early, and were greeted by about 15 other campers. The first camper arrived around 8 PM the night before the sale (yea yea, I heard about it all night). For our second overnight trip, we arrived around 10 PM, and there was still a good 15 people ahead of us, with the first arriving around 6 PM the day before. Both overnight trips were during the cooler months, and the front sidewalks were lined with sleeping bags and friendly campers. It was a fun experience, even though you get little sleep. I remember trying to fall asleep around 3 AM, just in time for the street sweeper to roll through the parking lot and grind lots of metal gears. Don’t count on getting much shut eye, but the other campers will be happy to have your company and conversation.
This time around, my husband paid me absolutely no mind, and headed to REI at noon… yes, noon… the day prior to the sale. The heat index was a soothing 99° with high humidity. Since returning from Iraq, my husband can’t stand the summer heat, and I was surprised when he committed to his plan despite the forecast. During the last Garage Sale, we found a sweet Goal Zero Yeti generator, and I recommended that he take that and a fan to keep himself cool. He obliged, and set up shop out front of REI with a Yeti cooler, a large Dyson fan, our awesome Jet Pilot chairs, an iPad, and his service dog. I was still stuck at work, so he sent me a picture of his new living room set up, including the sweet AC power outlet he hooked the fan up to. He thoroughly enjoyed all of the friendly conversation with passers by who thought he was mentally ill and/or fashionably homeless. I was joining him later that evening with my son, after picking him up from a week at Boy Scout camp. Surprise, son, after a week of a camping, you’re sleeping on concrete tonight! The second Garage Sale camper in line showed up at 3:52 PM, and asked my husband why he got there so early.
Since we do not really need anything, we camp solely for the experience. We want to be the first ones in the door so that we can see what sort of things there are to offer, plus, bragging rights of course. Shoppers are allowed into the Garage Sale in waves of about 15-20 people every 15 minutes. Tickets are handed out to those who lined up before the store opened, and continue to be handed out throughout the event. Shoppers are limited to 15 minutes behind closed doors to peruse the super-secret sale items, and are limited in the number of items they can purchase. This keeps it fair and interesting for everyone else, even the stragglers who show up later in the afternoon. Many items make their way back into the sale throughout the day, so unless you are first, you may never see the whole smorgasbord of goodies. You have no idea what is up for grabs until it is your turn to shop, but you can shop the used shoe sale in the meantime. There are usually a few tables piled high with shoes, boots, and sandals that range anywhere from brand new to extremely used. I have gotten everyone in the family a pair of like-new hiking boots, for as much as 80% off, and we are talking very high end boots. Ski and snowboard boots can be found here, as well.
Prior to attending my first Garage Sale, I had no idea what to expect. I read horror stories of REI sales on line that made it sound like an awful experience. From what I read, I was expecting a mosh pit of rude, ruthless hippies, pushing and shoving for bargains, and ripping things right out of each others hands. Thanks to those stories and videos, it took me 2 years to gather the courage to actually attend one. Maybe there really are a bunch of desperate, rude, thieving hippies in certain parts of the country, but thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case at my local REI. The stories I heard could not have been further from the truth, well, with the exception of the stories about the lines and wait times. People really do camp out and line up around the building to get the first tickets, and if you show up when the doors open, you can expect to have to wait several hours before your ticket time is called. Other than that, the people are very friendly and courteous, for the most part. We did have someone snatch something out of our hands once, but there is always one asshole in every crowd. We’ve met some very friendly people who camped next to us, and shared some interesting stories. We have gotten some amazing and unexpected deals on gear, whether we needed it or not. Some of our best scores were two brand new SUPs, a Yeti solar generator, Yakima roof rack items, snowboard gear, bindings, a mountain bike, a brand new Gregory pack (for $25!), and tons of tid bits like MTB parts, GoPro accessories, and gently used camp gear.
Check out part 2 of this write up on the sale, to read more about the overnight experience and our latest Garage Sale scores. Click here to read all about it here.