'Ginormous' garage sale hits 15 years
By Brett Boese
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
FRONTENAC — Fifteen years ago, a number of small communities surrounding Lake Pepin created a garage sale partnership. It quickly took on a life of its own in becoming known as the 100-mile garage sale.
Tour buses from around Minnesota and Wisconsin now provide transportation for the thousands of visitors who will descend on the area this weekend, and people from as far away as California fly in for the spring event. It's allowed communities such as Hastings — which is about 45 miles north of Lake Pepin — to join the garage sale craze that annually sweeps the area.
"People are really starting to get excited about this thing," said Dale Bluem, former president of Mississippi Valley Partners, the event's organizer. "I think you can get whatever you want at whatever price you want to pay for it. It's that good."
The most recent group to hop on the coattails of the wildly popular weekend is the Villa Maria Retreat and Conference Center in Frontenac, about 10 miles north of Lake City. It's a venue that promotes spiritual and personal growth in a relaxed setting near the Mississippi River.
The facility hosted its first community garage sale as part of the bigger event last year, gathering donations from more than 100 families. The ensuing two-day sale in the old gym space brought in hundreds of visitors and raised nearly $5,000, which will be used to support the ministries and scholarship programs of the Villa.
"We called it ginormous last year," said Becky Shequen, an employee at the facility. "There was just something for everyone.
"We had a wonderful turnout, and a lot of people got to learn about the Villa while they were here, too."
The Villa has planned a more aggressive public relations push with this year's event. Staff members will serve as greeters, informational brochures will be featured prominently and snacks will be provided for shoppers.
Villa executive director Mike Kieffer hopes to use this opportunity to raise the visibility of his facility. He believes that process begins with keeping bargain hunters' bellies as full as their pocketbooks.
"Gotta feed those hungry shoppers," he said. "They're looking for bargains, but we want to keep their stomachs full, too."
The two-day event, which runs along U.S. 61 in Minnesota and Wisconsin Highway 35, begins at 8 a.m. Friday and runs through Saturday afternoon. A map of all the registered garage sale sites is available for download at the Mississippi Valley Partners website , while individual towns should have their specific site maps available at local gas stations, according to Bluem.
In addition, signs are typically posted prominently throughout the area.
"You can get out of your vehicle at one site and then drive two feet to get to the next site," Bluem said.