Warding Off Thieves At Estate Sales No Fun


Last weekend, I conducted an estate sale in Palatka, the north Florida home of my antiques mall. I love organizing and running estate sales because I am curious about other people’s lives, and what can tell you more about another person’s life than rooting through his or her everyday possessions?

My husband, Mark, is not as enthusiastic. Why not? Because while I am sitting in air-conditioned comfort, researching and assigning a value to a ceramic poodle knickknack of the 1950s, Mark is sweltering in a hot garage, fighting off (on a good day) jumbo cockroaches and (on a bad day) angry rodents as he gamely tries to stick gummed labels onto rusty old tools.

Then, after four days of listening to me regale the cuteness of potholders crocheted in the shape of turtles and lament what is America coming to that women don’t crochet turtles anymore, he has to drive me down every street within a 3-mile radius of the sale so I can dart into traffic to spike directional signs into the ground… at midnight.

And I admit that even I don’t fancy the idea of being mowed down by an erratic driver in pitch blackness and rain, but where else are you going to find a town where they let you poke 32 neon pink signs into the ground (and five A-frames!) and leave them there for three days so you can earn enough money for the heirs of the poor deceased to be able to pay the taxes on their childhood home? Nowhere!

So I do it.

But as much fun as all that is, there is a downside to estate sales — crooks. Now you would think that the mere fact that they are stealing from people who, in many cases, are still grieving the loss of their last remaining parent would serve as some sort of a deterrent. But you would be wrong.

Here’s what we do to stave off crime — we station a person in every room, put the small and/or valuable things at the checkout clerk’s elbow, don’t advertise the exact address of the sale, follow anyone we suspect and lock things up tight as a drum when we leave.

Doesn’t matter. Here’s what they will steal — anything.

We had one woman take an electric shaver out of its box and put it into her bag. We had three people watching her, but she still managed to do it. We had another guy slide a glass bottle into his pants. And, last but not least, someone took the key to an ancient safe, knowing we wouldn’t be able to sell it without the key and hoping to come back on the last day and get it for half price.

The shaver woman saved herself $5. The bottle guy saved himself $2 (and the chance to father children if he tripped on the way out). And the would-be safe buyer was foiled when a locksmith bought the safe before it got marked down.

At a similar sale held by my sister, someone stole all the CDs out of their cases despite the fact that a 2-inch-by-3-inch photo of my bald-headed, chemo-riddled, new amputee of a nephew graced the grounds with the statement, “Thank you for helping me earn a wheelchair!”

I’m not sure if I believe in paybacks or karma or “getting what you deserve,” but a tiny little part of me hopes that, upon their arrival at the Pearly Gates, these criminals are welcomed by St. Peter who will quickly launch into a Powerpoint presentation of their lives. This enlightening video will culminate with the guilty party being ushered “Downstairs.”

And how will they spend their days in hell? I hope it’s not crocheting turtle-shaped potholders.