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price tags on a life past

Cindy Quiroz turns the key in the lock and opens the door.

Inside, it's always the same.

Dishes on the counter. Clothes in the closet. Knicknacks on the shelves. As if the owner just left.

Quiroz and her helpers walk through the homes, opening windows to air out the smell of cigarettes and cats.

Some houses are neat. Some are messy. In all of them, stillness blankets the rooms like a drop cloth.

The women quickly get to work. They have only a few days to clean and put a price tag on the relics of a life. Quiroz prides herself on presentation.

She washes the dirty clothes and sets the table, as if she's expecting guests.

She is, hundreds of them. But this isn't her house.

Quiroz and her crew run estate sales in other people's homes after the owner moves or dies. When the crowds arrive, she stands at the door to welcome them.

The company will be here at the house on Hacienda Drive in two days, on Friday morning. Most are retirees from Sun City Center or Sarasota.

"By Saturday, everything is out of here, vacuumed and swept," Quiroz says.

It's good business in Sun City Center, where three or four other estate sales businesses operate. Often children live out-of-state and need help selling their parents' possessions. Retirees swarm to the sales, buying entire rooms of furniture for new homes. Quiroz holds a sale, sometimes two, every weekend.

She keeps a quarter of the proceeds.

Often, she knows her clients. Born and raised in Plant City, Quiroz spent the last 30 years living in Wimauma and working retail nearby in Sun City Center.

She knows a few well. They're like grandparents to her. For those, she'll handle the sale but won't touch the personal items. She leaves that work to her assistants.

Quiroz and her team don't know the woman who lived here.

They're not sure how she died.

They do know that she liked blue, the color of her living room furniture and the oriental rugs.

She liked cats.

"We found the litter," Quiroz says.

Her magnets, sitting on a dining room server, say, "One can never have too many cats."

An organ sits in the front living room, along with sofas, a recliner and a large entertainment center filled with miniature plants.

She had white and gold inlaid Correll dishes in the kitchen cabinets.

She ate Progresso vegetable soup and left Febreze under the sink.

She used a 1963 black rotary dial telephone.

All of it will be for sale.

In the bedroom closet are two feather boas, one black, one red. Amid her gray heels and black sandals are a pair of pink ballerina slippers and tap shoes.

"She must have been a dancer, for sure," Quiroz says.

Quiroz's helpers buzz around the bedroom, setting out the woman's clothes and rubies and pearls, on the dresser next to a heart-shaped jewelry box.

"This is exquisite," Mary Vanderbloemen says, holding up a V-shaped white collar of pearls and sequins. She lays it on the bed along with socks and handkerchiefs.

The women empty the drawers, sometimes finding money, which they set aside for the family.

"We just found an old dollar," Vanderbloemen says, holding up the bill wrapped in a dusty cover.

"It must be something special."

Quiroz examines it, another clue to the woman's past.

1957, it says.

"It could have been the first dollar they made," she says.

Nancye Gologanoff, another helper, enters from the bathroom, worried. In her arms is a box full of syringes that she just found.

They wonder if the woman was diabetic.

Quiroz calls a pharmacist and asks how to dispose of the syringes.

Vanderbloemen walks into the dining room, hugging a pillow.

"Cindy, look, this is a comfort pillow they give you when you get radiation," she says, trembling, as if shaking off the possibility.

"She must have had cancer," she says. What Quiroz and her helpers don't know is that the woman was 70 when she died Jan. 9 at the LifePath Hospice and Palliative Care in Sun City Center.

She was a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, according to her obituary in the St. Petersburg Times.

She owned a real estate business in Zephyrhills.

She and her husband of 46 years moved to the area in the mid-1970s, then to Sun City Center in 1997.

He was a retired Navy seaman. He died in the home on Hacienda Drive under hospice care in June 2003.

She was a Protestant and a member of the Eastern Star charitable organization.

She golfed, avidly, and acted in community theater.

At 8 a.m. Friday, Quiroz opens the front door.

People are lined up, waiting.

The process must be orderly: in the front door, through the living room, then out into the garage, where Quiroz's workers run two cash registers on card tables.

Quiroz's in the living room to greet them.

One woman immediately puts her glasses on the bridge of her nose, inspecting a silk plant and its price tag. Others meander through the hallway into the bathroom, bedroom, and lanai. Their eyes dart about.

A man rocks back and forth in the living room recliner.

"Ah, looks like that fits," Quiroz tells him.

"Everything fits," he says, "but the price."


Piano books are stacked on a table nearby. The one on the top, songs from World War II, goes for $3.50.

Women touch the sofas, remark on the blue-white colors.

Shoppers grab the McCormick spices, seasoned perilla leaves, dishwashing liquid, all for sale on the kitchen counter.

"Here's a thing on medical guides, Wilma," one woman calls to her friend, pulling the text off a bookshelf in the dining room.

Authors Nora Roberts, Jan Koran, James Michener, Stuart Woods. A biography of Hitler.

Hardcovers go for $2 each.

A dictionary sells for 50 cents.

The dining room table Quiroz brought in from storage is set with plates, cups, dishes and glasses.

"Just wrap it up, honey, I'll take it," one woman tells Gologanoff about a desk chair.

The bedroom is quieter.

Men and women file in, looking around.

A rocker: $100.

Flowered jewelry box: $2.

On the night stand, a white alarm clock: $1.

A Sony phone with answering machine: $8.

An ornament that says, "Two hearts together are always in tune, Happy Anniversary." $2. By Saturday afternoon, the house is empty. Quiet once more.

The women fold up the card tables and sweep the bare floors. They dust the counters.

On Monday, they will head to another house.

Quiroz looks around one last time, closes the door and turns the key. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 661-2441 or Gologanoff puts prices on towels, sheets and curtains in one room while Mary Vanderbloemen marks prices on jewelry down the hall in a home on Hacienda Drive in Sun City Center in January. The Cindy's Estate Sales workers mark every item in the house. They're getting the home ready for an estate sale.Price tags wait to be attached to jewelry and other personal items. Everything is sold, from shirts still hanging in the closet to dishes in the kitchen cabinet to paint cans in the garage.It is Jan. 20, the day of the estate sale at 1219 Hacienda Drive in Sun City Center. Buyers line up to enter the home, where everything - from dishwashing liquid to a golf cart - is for sale. They started cuing up before 7 a.m. and the doors don't open until 8. Mens hats sit on a self in the garage. They were among items sold by Cindy's Estate Sales. Cindy Quiroz holds a sale, sometimes two, every weekend.