Warehouse F

Neighborhood Commerce

The Unseen Enemy
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Desperate Homeowners Turn To Garage Sales

By James Donahue

Things have become so grim for so many unemployed folks in places like Elkhart, Indiana, the front lawns have been turned into a city-wide perpetual garage sale.

A story in the New York Times noted that there have been so many garage sales occurring that it drove the Elkhart City Council to pass a law limiting residents to only one garage sale a month. The working class that still demands green, well manicured yards and quiet neighborhoods takes offense at the fact that neighbors are frantically selling all of their belongings just to make the house payments and feed the children.

The restriction on garage sales, however, has made the financial crisis that much more severe for the people who were using them as a way of surviving for a few more months. The Times story said the sales were a “sole source of income” for many residents, and for others the only source of clothing. Without jobs they found unemployment checks were not enough to cover the cost of food, gasoline, rent and everything else. They cut corners and bought used stuff they needed at bargain prices at the garage sale down the street.

The decision by the Elkhart City Council reminds us of laws passed by councils in some of the larger cities a few years ago that made it illegal to be homeless. The laws gave the police the freedom to harass homeless people living under bridges and in abandoned buildings and drive them out of town. It didn’t fix the problem. It merely pushed the problem of homelessness out of sight and out of mind.

In the years spent reporting city government, we have heard complaints that garage sale venders are practicing commerce without a business license. Indeed, those who operate a perpetual market from their garage and driveway, appear to be operating a business without declaring it a business. If councils across the land force the issue, not only can they limit the number of garage sales held at a home, they also can require some kind of permit or license to do so as well. Under the circumstances, we hope it never comes to this.

Homelessness is getting worse in America and we believe the garage sale and flea market phenomenon, a popular means of exchange all across the continent, will intensify. The more fortunate residents of our communities must learn to be more tolerant, and practice compassion. After all, in today’s strange economic climate the slightest twist of fate could put them in the same boat with the rest of the unemployed.