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Garage sales a sign of tough economic times

A sculpture is priced to sell at a garage sale.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

A sculpture is priced to sell at a garage sale.

CARROLLWOOD — Emily Hernandez had her first garage sale last month. She didn't do it because she wanted to, but because she needed to.

Hernandez, 26, and her boyfriend downsized to an apartment because their carpet-cleaning business has slowed down. There won't be room for the dining set they sold for $45 — or the bedroom set no one bought.

"It's my stuff, and it means a lot to me. But by the middle of the sale I was like, 'That'll be for gas. That'll be for the security deposit,' " she said. "We have to pinch pennies every way we can."

When the last car left their Carrollwood home, the couple made $118.

With the cooler weather comes the season for garage sales, romanticized by classified ad-scourers, hobbyists and wheeling, dealing little old ladies. The early-morning yard fairs are in full swing, and some say with a greater force than ever.

The sluggish economy has shoved many people out of their homes and their jobs. They need money, hence the magic-marker-scrawled signs on telephone poles and community bulletin boards. They're everywhere — in New Tampa, in Lithia, South Tampa and Seminole Heights.

Joseph DeSalvo, a University of South Florida professor and expert in urban and regional economics, said he's not surprised by the popularity of garage sales these days.

Even when people don't directly feel the effects of a downturn by losing their jobs or homes, for instance, they still get cautious about money, he said.

"People simply react to a change in their circumstances," DeSalvo said.

Frank Margarella, president of the New Tampa Community Council, said garbage day was once prime time for treasure-seekers to snag second-hand goodies from gated communities.

Nowadays, Margarella said, people are accumulating their stuff for garage sales rather than throwing it out.

"It doesn't matter what level you're at; everybody's discretionary income is restricted," he said. "You're going to say, 'Hey, I'm going to sell this and this and this, and I'm going to buy the kid the fancy cleats or the fancy gear and it's not going to hurt the household.' "

Farther south in Hillsborough, Maria LaLuz, a 68-year-old retired bank teller, lives on her Social Security check and pension. She also takes care of her 89-year-old mother, her 42-year-old daughter and 17-year-old grandson. (Her daughter is back in school to finish a business degree and doesn't have a job.)

"It's a hard time, so I look for sales," LaLuz said, foraging through items at a garage sale in South Tampa earlier this month. "But by doing all this, we're doing okay."

Jackie and John Holland sat at a for-sale patio set with a cash box and doughnuts, while watching LaLuz and other potential buyers. The Hollands had not lost their jobs or their home. They had the garage sale because they have four houses too many.

Before "For Sale" signs were ominous, John Holland flipped houses. The market was hot and turning around sales meant easy money.

Not anymore. The Hollands can't get rid of the houses, turning the couple into reluctant landlords with more furniture and knick-knacks than they need. So they staged a garage sale at one of their South Tampa rentals. The signs said everything must go.

It was Jackie's first time.

"I was kind of amazed at what people bought," she said. "It felt good to help them out."

Neighborhoods and gated communities across the county host group sales to attract more buyers.

FishHawk Ranch, a community in Lithia, had its sale Saturday. Out of about 3,500 homes in FishHawk, 300 to 500 typically participate in the spring and fall sales, and thousands of customers stop by, said Sandra Wix, spokeswoman for the community's homeowners association.

Wix said participation has risen in recent years, partly due to community growth, but because of the economy, too. "It's really crowded to the point where you can't even get into the streets," she said.

Back in Carrollwood, Hernandez's king-sized bedroom set won't fit in her new apartment but is still without a new owner. The situation calls for yet another garage sale, and she has been rounding up all the knick-knacks she can bear to part with before Saturday.

"We'd rather have the money," Hernandez said. "The way everything is going, you just want to have cash on your hands."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Garage sales a sign of tough economic times 10/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 4:31am]
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