Christmas sale restores holiday spirit

December 21, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

MY ANNUAL 48-HOUR Maalox moment comes every December on the weekend I play merchant -- that is, when I have a hand in running a church bazaar.

Last Saturday, I arrived at the basement door of St. Ignatius Church, Calvert and Madison streets, at the unlikely hour of 8: 10 a.m. There was already a small line waiting to get in.

Why would anyone be up at this hour for brownies, cookies, fudge and holiday greens? About half an hour later, the doors were opened, and my question was answered. These were flea-market pickers, people who earn a living reselling antiques and collectibles plucked from bazaars and yard sales.

Apparently, the pickings were dismal. The pickers carted off only a few dubious pieces of plunder, including one object that a woman insisted upon paying for in legal, but annoying tender -- 85 dimes.

Another couple spent 90 minutes at one motley white-elephant table. They picked, pulled and criticized. They held objects to the light. They argued about price. They said the artificial flower arrangement didn't look real. They said the real flowers were too much trouble and wouldn't last.

Finally, after an hour and a half of haggling and indecision, the couple left. They spent $9.40, approximately a penny a minute.

We were rid of the flea-market pickers, and then we had no customers until some long-time friends of the parish arrived and spent a tidy $1.25. It's depressing when the church volunteers outnumber customers.

Then, like an apparition, a face appeared at the door, a regular at the church who arrived at the sensible hour of 10: 30 a.m. She spent $40 and donated some items for the sale. She constituted our biggest sale of the day -- far greater than the aggregate receipts of all the pickers.

More people trickled in. It was our much-desired noontime surge. I didn't know who the people were, but I recognized their faces. There was the Charles Street lady in the brown coat who always buys a poinsettia. There was the man who craves the Yorkshire-born lady's lemon squares. There was the couple who always buy the Christmas stollen loaf.

Then the woman arrived from the Harbor Court apartments and bought our best table arrangement of greens. It was for the reception hall of the building where Brady Anderson lives. I began to think, "Well, maybe some good is going to come of all these chattels."

I didn't think that many people would be going to church at noontime, but such is the power of Saturday spirituality. And, praise the Lord, they spent. All the little rosemary herb Christmas trees flew out the door. At $20, they were fairly expensive (the flea-market pickers would have complained).

By the end of the day, I got a call from Carolyn Dunne, who chairs the church hospitality committee. "We made $995," she ++ said in a voice that sounded as if the stock market had just soared past the 9,000 mark. And that was only the first day.

By Sunday, I was convinced we'd clean up. The crowd picked the baked-goods table clean and pretty well cleaned out the greens.

Our most popular sellers, of course, were what we didn't have -- the rosemary herb trees and a one-of-a-kind boxwood and Pacific cedar table arrangement festooned with large pine cones.

As always happens, people most desire what someone else has, and in a moment of panic I did what catalog houses do -- I announced that the boxwood- cedar creation was back-ordered. promised they'd get one before Christmas.

Then I thought of the advice a friend had given me the day before: "Kelly, you'll never make it in retail."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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