If you’ve never attended the Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale, this may be the year to do so. Donations are up after the event was held mostly online over the past two years – due to the Pandemic – and some of the items to be sold are classics – such as a 1976 BMW Model 2002 available in the vehicle lot.
The auction and rummage sale will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday July 2 at Woodward Middle School on Sportsman Club Road N.E. You can preview the six acres of merchandise, books, furniture and household goods from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday July 1, and get a feel for what you might want to buy. The “Rotary Auction,” as most locals call it, is a place where Americana intersects with pure Capitalism.
You can almost picture Norman Rockwell sketching a scene of would-be shoppers scurrying about the school’s landscape on auction day looking for that one item or two they spied during the preview and are hoping against hope is still there.
“The amount of donations (this year) are more than we’ve ever seen,” says Tom McCloskey, the Rotary club’s current president. “We’re bursting at the seams and we hope a lot of people will come out and buy stuff.”
Amazingly, most of the “treasurers” on display come from the homes, garages, and storage facilities of Bainbridge Islanders, who have learned over the years to squirrel away auction items for the Rotary and donate them during the five-day drop off period – that ended this past Wednesday evening.
Walk around the site for a time and you’ll see a veritable cornucopia of products from A to Z. The scene has the look and feel of a large emporium or perhaps a Turkish Bazaar. There’s a huge tent located on the south parking lot that is filled with fine furnishings, gleaned from curbside donations by a small army of dedicated volunteers. Behind it, is a sea of furniture: tables of every sort and size, couches, desks, chairs, hutches, filing cabinets and the like. Not far away, are loads of skis, golf clubs, fishing gear, backpacks and outdoor and exercise equipment. Across the lot is a whole area devoted to lawn and garden stuff, along with barbecues, pet supplies and more.
Walk around to the north end parking lot and you’ll see cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, kayaks and trailers for sales. There’s another area devoted to building materials, with a string of doors, leaning against a fence. Out in a nearby field are hundreds of bicycles – both kids and adults – available for purchase, along with accessories, such helmets and other biking gear. Next door, on the same lawn, are dozens of tents, coolers and other camping equipment.
If that wasn’t enough, walk inside and the gym is full of books, music and kids toys. Below, on an outside basketball court, are tables full of clothing of every sort imaginable. And there’s more. Inside the school – in classrooms – are specialty items, such as musical instruments, fine chinaware, electronics, and much more.
The auction is broken down into about 36 departments that contain the merchandise, and it takes hundreds of volunteers hundreds of hours to sort through the material, clean it and ready it for sale. McCloskey says the Fine Furniture Tent typically brings in the most money during the auction, closely followed by vehicle sales. But all departments – regardless of their size and status – contribute to the bottom line.
In 2019 – the last year a physical auction was staged – Rotarians grossed $605,000 during the six-hour affair. The record haul occurred in 2018 when the club earned $624,000 before expenses were subtracted. There’s no telling what Rotarians will bring in this year, as pent up demand could “bring in a very good crowd,” McCloskey reasons. “We never know what we are going to get (in terms of financial donations) and how many people will come.”
If past years are any indication, the auction could draw between 7,000 and 8,000 people and cause traffic delays in and around the middle school. And many customers come from afar to attend this unique event, including out-of-state antique dealers and fans who devote a few days of vacation to visiting the island and romping around the site.
So what happens to all the goodies that aren’t purchased during the auction’s peak hours? Some 50 different non-profit organizations – affectionately known as “gleaners” (all of whom wear special badges) – move in at approximately 2:30 pm and begin snapping up clothing, bikes, furniture, skis and whatever else is available and loading the largess onto awaiting trucks. At about 6 or 6:30 p.m., the site is then opened to anyone from the public who wants to rummage through the remaining leftovers.
The next morning, compactor trucks from Bainbridge Disposal move onto the site and clean up the excess stuff and take it to the dump, so that the Rotary Club can return the school back to its Principal and teachers. Drive by Woodward on the Sunday afternoon following the auction, and you’d never know there was an event of such magnitude held there.
Proceeds from the auction help support numerous local and regional causes, as well as the Rotary’s international programs. But at the end of the day, it’s about the experience of donating, volunteering and shopping. As McCloskey puts it, “one thing’s for certain about the auction, there’s a deal for everyone!”
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