Vermonters weigh coronavirus risk of this season’s yard sales

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Yard sales, garage sales and tag sales got a green light this week from Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, with the condition that they follow guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Early-birds take note: No more than 10 people at a time may flock to the deals.

All of this is old news for some pioneering residents who have plied domestic-scale commerce on their lawns, front porches and of course, online all spring.

For weeks, organizers of many yard sales, via Front Porch Forum, Craigslist and Facebook, have touted many of the same coronavirus pandemic safeguards as those listed by the Vermont Department of Health:

  • Avoid close contact with non-household members.
  • Wear a face mask.
  • Sanitize surfaces that you (or others) repeatedly touch.
  • Wash your hands more frequently than usual.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes (follow “respiratory etiquette”).

Such formalities, and the challenges of crowd management, prompted organizers in Newport to outright cancel their annual, city-wide yard sale for this year.

Other Vermonters are scaling back.

Lisa Riddle of Milton hosted a “social distancing sale” through Facebook Marketplace earlier this month, but restricted the event to one shopper at a time, with a mason jar as a cashbox.

Will she ramp up as the season warms?

Not a chance, Riddle said: She doesn’t want to attract hoards of out-of-towners.

As for the big, multi-family yard sales in Vermont’s prime July-and-August season, she added, “This year they’re not going to happen.”

‘Not an ideal time’

In early May, Winooski resident Andrew Tonra, 24, needed to get rid of some possessions prior to moving to Maryland.

Tonra said he had to persuade people prowling through Facebook Marketplace that they could safely take a snowboard, surfboard and Hammond M3 organ off his hands.

“Not an ideal time to be moving, not an ideal time for a moving sale, yet here we are!” Andrew Tonra posted.

He outlined the protocols:

  • To protect shoppers, he had left his stuff for several days out in his garage.
  • When contacted, he would bring the item to his front porch and sanitize the portions he had touched.
  • He would speak to shoppers from a safe distance as they checked out the gear.
  • To protect his three housemates, he would accept only electronic payments through Venmo or PayPal.

“I’ve actually ended up giving a lot of stuff away,” Tonra said in a phone interview. “But I’m proud of the little system I worked out.”

Give it away now?

Many Vermonters, like Tonra, have foregone meager profits just to be rid of clutter and excess.

Freebies line Burlington sidewalks — although maybe fewer than usual, with the absence of university students.

A Facebook group, Buy Nothing Burlington, offers a convenient way to browse the local inventory of cast-offs, and to search for specific items.

Merchandise ranges from bicycles to cloth diapers; from seedlings to furniture; from canned food to toys.

Group members typically spell out how the pick-up or delivery of the goods might be done with minimal exposure to airborne pathogens.

Yard sale die-hards might consult step-by-step instructions for a safe, orderly event outlined by the Ohio Department of Health.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

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