Next month, hundreds of bargain hunters will descend upon El Cerrito, Calif., a San Francisco bedroom community just north of Berkeley, for the city’s semiannual citywide garage sale. About 65 homes will host individual garage sales, and shoppers can drive from sale to sale, securing deals on secondhand goods that might have otherwise ended up in the landfill or languished in storage.
The idea for El Cerrito’s citywide garage sale was conceived back in 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the San Francisco Bay Area, killing 63, starting fires and bringing down freeways. After the natural disaster, El Cerrito’s fire department began to inspect home foundations for structural damage, but kept running into a recurring problem; garages packed with old stuff that prevented officials from accessing and checking foundations.
To clear these unwanted items from garages for safety inspections – and to benefit the environment by promoting reuse – local resident and reuse advocate Marianne Hegeman approached the city about organizing a citywide garage sale.
In October 1990, El Cerrito held its first citywide garage sale, and the event was such a success that the city has since made it an annual tradition. Now in its 22nd year, the garage sale is as popular as ever, expanding from one Saturday in October to two events per year: one in May and one in October.
A few years ago, neighboring city Albany decided to host its own citywide garage sale, too, and now the two East Bay cities coordinate their events to fall on successive weekends.
“[The citywide garage sale] helps people clear the clutter out of their homes and encourages reuse, putting unwanted items back into circulation,” says Garth Schultz, environmental analyst for the city of El Cerrito. “People look forward to the event; it gives them a chance to meet their neighbors and brings a sense of community…[the garage sale] has multiple benefits.”
Tips to start your own citywide garage sale
Want to organize a citywide garage sale in your own community? Schultz offers these step-by-step instructions to get started: