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Weekend warriors in Pittsburgh on hunt for best bargains, new friends

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Judy Wertelet usually makes it to her first garage sale of the day by 7 a.m., makes her rounds to 15 or 20 of them before 11 a.m., then heads home to unload a minivan full of secondhand items.

"The style in my house is garage sale chic," said Wertelet, 58, of Baldwin, who planned to redecorate a bedroom to match a comforter she purchased at a recent sale on McAnulty Road in West Mifflin. "Seriously, though, my whole house really is garage sale items."

Wertelet is part of a group of diehards who map out routes to dozens of garage and yard sales each weekend during the summer. The bargain hunters see each other at sales so often, they've become friends.

"You meet a lot of good people," said Dan Zahorchak, of Brentwood. "I met one guy two or three years ago and we started talking about cars, so now every time we see each other, we talk."

Zahorchak, his wife and a number of others at the McAnulty Road sale all were headed to two other sales in the immediate area. They said they go to about 10 sales each weekend and know they're likely to see certain people, but rarely are there formal plans to meet up at a sale, said Jackie Zahorchak.

Most people socialize before the first sale starts, and all bets are off once the bargain-shopping begins, said Vanessa McEntee, of Dormont.

"When it opens, you don't see who is here because you're looking at the stuff," she said.

McEntee said she often will get to a sale an hour early for first dibs on the best merchandise, even if the seller says, "No early birds." The garage usually will be open already, she said.

Some first-time garage sale hosts at a recent multifamily sale in Peters were surprised buyers wanted a sneak peak.

"People were coming a day or two earlier to see what (residents) had," said Sandy Pirosko, a real estate agent who organized the sale. "They were going to the house prior to the sale and asking if they could see what they were going to have for sale."

Among the unique items these devoted buyers have purchased are a $250 Tiffany lamp that went for $50, a custom-made marble table that would have cost more than $200 retail and sold for $25 and a pair of 14 karat gold earrings for $2. A 1948 dime slot machine and two phonographs from the 1950s were on display at the four-family garage sale on McAnulty Road.

McEntee was there searching for items to sell at her husband's antiques and collectibles store. But most buyers said they don't try to resell things, and they don't often host their own sales, unless clearing out space is a must.

"I used to go to a lot of garage sales, but then my house got full," said Janice Edkins, of Bethel Park, who had her first garage sale this summer. "I spent 22 years accumulating things, and I don't have a lot out, considering."

The two walk-in attics in Wertelet's home give her plenty of storage space, she said, as she got ready to head off to two more sales. She had written the locations of both on a notebook page. She flipped the sheet over and pointed to the long list of sales she was going to the next day.

"It's like my Saturday job," she said. "Now that I think about it, I get an adrenaline rush coming to these."

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