At a quarter after 8 on Saturday morning, Allison Strider headed straight for the furniture section at the Junior League Clean Sweep. A four-year veteran shopper at the annual rummage sale, she had a strategy for finding the best items at the best deal.
But Strider, who drove from Orangeburg with her aunt for the sale, wasn’t even one of the earliest birds. Eager shoppers had claimed probably 70 percent of the furniture just 15 minutes into the sale, which for 18 years has been hosted by and supports Columbia’s Junior League, League President Ginny Hairston estimated.
Crowds of bargain seekers snaked through the state fairgrounds parking lot early in the morning, waiting to rush the sale – Black Friday-style – in a frenzy to snap up deals on gently-used donated items, such as $10 lamps and $40 couches, $2 books and 50-cent cookie tins.
The number of attendees wasn’t immediately available, but more than 2,100 shoppers attended last year’s Clean Sweep.
Strider and her aunt, Willie Hayden, stayed at the sale for more than three hours Saturday, scouring the place like a treasure hunt.
“It’s a challenge,” Hayden said.
Hayden had come hoping to find a lamp – which she did, at a $10 bargain that she managed to talk down even further to just $6. She treated herself to a pair of silk lampshades – at just $2 apiece, “you can’t go wrong,” she said – to go with it.
By 11 a.m., the pair had already loaded one round of spoils into the car and were back browsing for more. Sometimes shoppers get sneaky and try to hide things, they said, so each trip through the aisles could lead them to a previously unseen gem.
“We’re not going to fight people for things,” Strider said. “It can get kind of crazy in here.”
Just a $5 bill could buy you a Halloween vampire kit or a coffeemaker or a toddler’s outfit.
For Tammy Webber, who came from Elgin, $5 was about how much she’d spend on a set of wine glasses (only a quarter each!) plus a pack of vacuum bags and handful of brass light switch covers.
“You can’t beat that,” she said.
In addition to raising some $30,000 each year for the Junior League, which uses the money to fund community projects, the sale is a big benefit for area shoppers who want to be kind to their wallets, said Hairston, who came away from the Clean Sweep with a handful of handbags and a dining room table herself.
Thinking of the rummage sale’s significance to the community, Hairston recalls a family from a few years back who found a beautiful kitchen table at a bargain price as they worked to rebuild their lives after a house fire.
Hearing the stories of folks like them, or even the newly married couple who on Saturday morning found a set of fine china to complement their new life together, makes the Clean Sweep a special event, Hairston said.
“It does serve a great service to the community,” she said. “It’s always fun to see what people will find.”