The REI garage sale.
For those who know about it, they become a tradition. For those who don’t know about it, they are a tradition waiting to happen.
REI is a co-op store that sells clothing and gear for outdoor and adventure sports from name brand companies. A few times a year, these stores unload all of the returned items they’ve received and sell them in a garage sale-type setting. The items range from virtually brand new to worn out and broken, and the prices can’t be beat for the brands that are available. While REI excels in providing gear for the great outdoorsman, many of the items at the sales are handy for even the occasional traveler, and let’s face it … we all love new travel gear. The average man on the road probably doesn’t need an ice axe, but many other things — from high-quality flip-flops and travel sleep sacks to headlamps and hats — can come in more than handy when you travel.
If you’ve never been to one, know this much: REI garage sales are not your average second-hand shops. Take the line from the opening night of a Harry Potter movie plus a rock-bottom electronics liquidation sale plus a group of people who look like they’ve survived a week in the wilderness and want nothing more than some steaming hot coffee from a roughed-up thermos and you have something very slightly resembling the wonderful, chaotic magic of these sales.
Forget Paris. Make your next trip to the closest REI for one of these close-out events, and get the most from your experience with these eight tips:
1. Plan ahead. Block off a whole morning for your garage sale shopping. Look for the REI store closest to you, check its events listing and plan to spend at least between two to three hours at the sale. Also, these sales are open to members only. While you can buy a membership at the cash register the day of, some sales require a membership card to look through the discounted items. Plan ahead and buy your $20.00 lifetime membership here. It will likely pay for itself the day of the garage sale.
2. Arrive early. There are people who camp out the night before for these garage sales because only 50 – 70 people are allowed in at one time, and there is no quota on what you can buy. To get dibs on the best stuff available, it is best to arrive at least two or three hours before the garage sales begin.
3. Prioritize. Ask yourself what items you truly need and shop for them first. If you need a day bag, don’t stop to sort through the shoes. Are you looking for a sleep sack? Don’t be sidetracked by the road bikes. For the best selection, shop in the order of your priorities.
4. Divide and conquer. If you are with other people, talk amongst yourselves about what everyone is looking for then spread out once you are in. There’s no reason for you both to look through sleeping bags when you are both also interested in size seven sandals. Let one person look for the sleep gear and the other can dig through the boxes of shoes. Meet up to pick through the joint findings.
5. Weigh price with quality. You will find some amazing deals at the REI garage sale, but nothing is a good deal if it is truly broken or worn down. Some items are virtually brand new and are in the sale because they were used for a photo shoot or floor sample. Other items have years of use and it shows. Still others are defective, but problems range from small holes or snags in clothing to electronics that are missing pieces to backpacks with broken zippers. Read the tag that explains why the item is in the sale and decide if the stated price plus the cost of any repairs you have to make is a reasonable price you are willing to pay for the quality of the item.
6. Try stuff on. If you would try it on at full price, you should attempt to try it on here. Shoes, clothing and backpacks aren’t going to do any good if they don’t fit properly, so take the time to see if they are comfortable. While you won’t have access to a dressing room, you can bring a pair of socks and try on shoes, slip jackets on over your clothes and adjust the straps on the backpacks.
7. Take your time. Some people fly through these sales running from table to clothes rack to bin … and they miss lots of great stuff in their rush to be everywhere first. In their chaotic dash, they often miss some of the best items, hidden in boxes under the tables or tucked between overheaped piles. Someone else might grab that water bottle you had your eye on, but there are lots of other good, high-quality items and deals. Slow down, have fun and enjoy yourself.
8. Expect nothing. You can’t go in expecting anything, and everything you do end up buying should be considered a fantastic find. The only thing that is certain is that you’ll be back for more.
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