To the visitor driving in from out of state, the 127 Yard Sale seems like a kind of Ironman for thrifters. The “world’s longest yard sale” is a test of endurance and attention. Spanning six states, 690 miles and thousands of stalls, it traverses dramatic landscapes, delicate cultural terrain and two time zones. Seeing it all in the four allotted days — Aug. 3 to 6 this year — is enough to induce vertigo in even the most stable-minded deal hunter. But some of us are foolish enough to try anyway.
The event was designed to promote cultural and economic exchange. In 1987, Mike Walker, then a 28-year-old county executive in Jamestown, Tenn., conceived of it as a way to lure travelers off the Interstate and into the small towns along U.S. Route 127, from Jamestown to Covington, Ky. In the following decades, it spread south to Georgia and Alabama and inched north to Ohio and then Michigan.
The 127 Yard Sale is fluid, kinetic, alive. This makes it a bit hard to find its official beginning. Driving down 127, I started to see “yard sale” signs long before reaching its northernmost point in Addison, Mich. We asked some guys at a gas station where they thought it started. They pointed to a nearby Baptist church, and soon we were standing in an orderly marketplace on a plot of pine and grass. Here I saw the first arrays of glassware, the first piles of free naked dolls, the dubbed VHS tapes, the loose silverware, the lines of floating dresses.