By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Saturday, Sept. 19 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Lester Prairie community garage sale, according to organizers Les Baumann and Charlotte Ehrke.
It all began in 1979, when Baumann encountered community garage sales in the southwestern Minnesota communities of Wabasha and Oronoco.
When he got back to Lester Prairie, Baumann talked to Ehrke, who was also a fan of garage sales, about his experience.
As the two talked, they decided it would be nice if Lester Prairie had its own community garage sale day.
They organized a day that fall, and the tradition has continued ever since.
One of the funniest things Ehrke remembers from the 30 years of sales was a time when a woman from another city bought something at one of the sales but didn’t get all of the pieces.
The woman called Ehrke and described the part of town where the sale had been. Ehrke was able to figure out where the woman bought the item, and the woman was able to get the rest of the pieces for the item she purchased.
“That is the benefit of a small town,” Ehrke laughed.
“Another nice thing about Lester Prairie is that it is walkable,” she added.
Baumann and Ehrke came up with many ideas over the years to add interest to garage sale day. Some were more successful than others.
Ehrke described one idea that did not work as planned.
“One year we hid a medallion,” she said. The idea was that it would be a contest, and people were supposed to look for the medallion when stopping at the various sales.
“Somebody bought the thing and never turned in the medallion,” Ehrke laughed. “I think it was hidden in a set of cookware or something.”
In other years, they sold mugs or sweatshirts to promote the event. One year, they had a dinner on garage sale day.
Ehrke said the enthusiasm has stayed with the event for 30 years, but if the enthusiasm ever starts to wane, she still has plenty of ideas for ways to generate interest.
“I have always thought we should have a garage sale queen,” Ehrke said. “She would have to wear only stuff purchased at the sales.”
The oddest thing Ehrke remembers purchasing at the sales is a cupola from a barn.
“We’ve certainly had a fun 30 years,” she commented.
“I’m sure that there are things that were sold at the sales 30 years ago that are still being re-sold at sales today,” Ehrke said.
Sales limited to Saturday only
Ehrke explained that because both she and Baumann worked, they decided the sales should be Saturday only.
Over time, the pair became even more committed to the one-day tradition.
“Saturday promotes family.” Ehrke explained. “It’s like a reunion. That is why one day is so important. If you want to re-connect with someone, you know they are going to be there on Saturday.”
They also believe that having it on only one day makes the event more popular.
Baumann said he used to go to a community garage sale in Wayzata that was Saturday only. It was later changed to run Thursday to Saturday, and Baumann said people stopped going.
“If it starts on Thursday, people think that all that is left on Saturday is junk,” Baumann commented.
Ehrke and Baumann agreed that having the event only on one day adds to the appeal. They said that in some years, people from Minneapolis stayed in the motels in Winsted or other area cities so they could get to the sales first thing on Saturday morning.
The event hasn’t declined over the years, and has always maintained about 100 sales, according to Ehrke.
“All you need is one great find,” Ehrke said in response to people who have complained that they can’t get to all of the sales in one day.
When they were determining when to schedule garage sale day, Ehrke consulted her calendar and decided the event should be conducted in the fall.
“I firmly believe people have more time in the fall,” she said, explaining that in the spring, people are busy with weddings, graduations, confirmations, getting their gardens started, and many other things.
She decided that scheduling the event in the fall would allow more people to participate because they are less busy.
Waiting until the kids are back in school, also gives people time to go through their homes and sort out things they may no longer need, according to Ehrke.
“We have always been blessed with good weather,” Ehrke said pointing out another benefit of the fall schedule, and knocking on a wooden bench so as not to jinx the good fortune. “In 30 years, I can only remember one day when it was cold, and one day when there was drizzle.”
Ehrke said she is grateful to the Lester Prairie businesses who have supported the event over the years by purchasing ads. “It benefits everyone from grandma to the little kids,” Ehrke commented.
“As business owners, we thought of it as doing something for our community,” Baumann commented.
Ehrke and Baumann acknowledged other people who have helped with the sales over the years, including Wally Dibb, Lew and Marceil Buss, Linda Albers, Marvin and Elda Westermann, Judy Angvall, Amy Bettcher, and Troy Feltmann.
“We could not have done it without the residents of Lester Prairie,” Ehrke said. “It is a non-spoken thing that the people in Lester Prairie are always there when we need them.”
She also complimented the quality of the sales in the city.
“I garage-sale a lot, and the garage sales in Lester Prairie are always neat, organized, and clean,” Ehrke commented.