Queen of yard sales lives in Maryland town

Expert: For 10 years, Chris Heiska has honed her shopping skills on the front lines, as a front-lawn bargain-hunter. Now, she's sharing her secrets on the Internet.

April 29, 2001|By Jim Quinn | Jim Quinn,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Chris Heiska has a dirty little secret. It proves that she is, indeed, the Yard Sale Queen.

"I did something very cheap at my last yard sale," she said. She was about ready to have a sale, but she didn't really want to go to the expense of buying a classified ad to promote it.

"I waited until someone else in my neighborhood placed an ad in the paper, then held my own yard sale the same day. I just put up my own signs in the neighborhood so the people going to the first yard sale came to mine as well," said Heiska, who lives in Southern Maryland.

Obviously, Heiska's instincts for bargain hunting are a bit sharper than most.

The arrival of spring means more than the return of songbirds, daylight-saving time and seasonal allergies. Spring is high season for yard sales.

It's that special time when basements, garages and attics cry out for relief from the accumulation of fall and winter clutter.

In spring, we concentrate on serious pursuits -- such as finding an unbelievable deal on a chain saw, a barely used video camera, or an in-the-box set of "Flintstones" juice glasses.

There is a great deal of technique to yard sales, a fact that's true for both buyers and sellers.

One of the best sources of information on these techniques is an especially devoted student of yard sales, and you'll find no one more devoted than Heiska.

The 37-year-old housewife is the creative force behind the Web site www.yardsalequeen.com, and a quick tour of her site proves that the name is no exaggeration.

Heiska's story began about 10 years ago when her family moved to Lusby. Like most red-blooded American consumers, Heiska enjoys shopping. "But I had a problem," she said. "The nearest mall is an hour away."

The absence of alternatives prompted Heiska to seek her shopping fix among the local examples of that vast underground economy that flourishes every weekend when the weather is good. More than most people, she appreciated the lure of these as-is sales and the exultation of finding bargains that retailers never offer. "Now, I'm a real addict," she said.

Heiska's addiction took a new turn about four years ago, when she became interested in the Internet. She wanted to experience the feeling of creating her own personal Web page, so she enrolled in a virtual community that gives users space for free Web sites.

She wasn't interested in creating a typical personal page. "A good Web site needs a focus," emphasized Heiska, explaining that she decided to devote her site to the art of yard salesmanship.

The years rolled by and Heiska methodically added her insights and experiences to her growing page. "Anytime I'd learn something new, I'd write it down," she said. For example, Heiska recently purchased a travel alarm clock, and when she got it home she discovered it contained old, corroded batteries. Thus was born another tip: always check battery-operated items for corrosion.

As her site's content grew, so did the number of visitors. A growing group of Webmasters thought enough of her work to put links on their sites. Increasingly, she attracted the attention of media outlets that sought out her opinions on this great nice-weather pastime.

Last year she decided to buy her own personal domain name, Yardsalequeen.com. She has recorded well more than 100,000 visits, she said, adding that her site regularly records more than 500 hits per day.

Give them a sign

What's the biggest mistake people make when throwing a yard sale? Poor signage, Heiska said simply.

"Your signs need to be legible from the road," she stressed. A surprising number of people allow their young children to be involved in the sale by drawing the signs, which is a bad idea, she said. Signs need to be readable, not artistic.

For those of you too cheap to purchase signs, Heiska pointed out that it's very easy to make legible, reusable signs. Just take a paper grocery bag, write YARD SALE on the sides in block letters, and draw arrows pointing in the appropriate direction. Put something heavy in the bottom, staple the bag shut at the top, then place the bag in a visible place by the curb. It doesn't get any cheaper or easier.

One of the easiest ways to have a yard sale is to participate in one of the fund-raising sales sponsored by community organizations.

What's the best way to find bargains? It depends on your definition of the word "bargain."

In terms of selection, the best bargains are available in the first hours of a sale, before the goods have been picked over by "early birds." Heiska points out that the really determined early birds will show up the night before a sale, claim they can't make it the next day, and con their way into an early viewing. (If you don't want early birds, don't put your exact address in ads, Heiska suggested, recommending a general description such as "the 200 block of Maple Street.")

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