Lincoln town-wide lawn sale celebrates 25 years

LINCOLN — What started as a way to help seniors find affordable housing has, over a quarter-century, turned into one of Lincoln’s most popular annual events.
When Lincoln hosts its annual Town Wide Yard Sale this Saturday it will mark the affair’s 25th anniversary.
To participate, residents pay $15 and receive an orange marker to place on their lawn to let bargain-hunters know they’re participating in the sale. The fees benefit Weathervane United, a Lincoln nonprofit founded in 1982 that provides subsidized senior housing in Lincoln village.
As it has grown from a small yard sale to benefit Lincoln’s senior citizens to one of the town’s hallmark events, co-founder Linda Norton said she is nothing but pleased.
“It’s a wonderful community gathering to celebrate the town and the senior housing project,” said Norton, a former Weathervane board member. “It’s a celebration that winter is over and spring is here. People come from New York; it’s been on their calendars.”
Bill Finger, president of the Weathervane board and also the chair of the Lincoln selectboard, said the idea of building senior housing first came up in the early 1980s.
“At the time we had several senior citizen women who were living alone in their family residences, and burdened with the care and upkeep of a big house, when they really didn’t need a big house,” Finger said.
Finger said the seniors asked what the town could do to provide them with a more suitable living situation.
“That’s when the idea of acquiring a couple houses in downtown Lincoln to convert into some senior apartments that might help address the problem came about,” Finger said.
As luck would have it, there were two properties available in the heart of town, near the Lincoln General Store.
A group of volunteers, the genesis of Weathervane United, applied for a state Community Improvement Grant, and were awarded around $100,000.
“It’s hard to believe now, but we were able to purchase the properties and do most of the renovations with those funds,” Finger said. “Now, either one of those properties would cost three times as much.”
The group bought two homes, one on each side of the general store, and subdivided each into three apartments. Finger said Weathervane didn’t have any trouble filling the units when they were completed in 1983.
“We developed a list of people that were interested, and got them pretty well occupied pretty quickly,” he recalled. “They’ve all stayed occupied pretty much continuously through the last 33 years.”
A decade after the first tenants moved in, the demand for units remained high, so Weathervane expanded again.
“There was still enough demand for those sort of apartments that we built a brand new building with four new apartments,” Finger said. “Now we have 10 apartments at very affordable rents.”
Finger said the rents are kept low because the Weathervane board manages the properties, rather than hiring someone to do it, and maintenance workers volunteer or work for a discounted rate.
As an additional way to subsidize rents, Norton said she and others toyed around with the idea of a lawn sale.
“We got to thinking, ‘Who’s going to come to Lincoln for one lawn sale?’” Norton said. “So that kind of expanded into, ‘Well, if we can get other people on board, we can have a sale and charge them.’”
The first year, in 1989, Weathervane charged participants $10. Town resident Don Brown volunteered to make the orange stakes for sellers’ lawns, and Weathervane members drew a map to help buyers navigate the sales.
In addition to sales at local homes, Weathervane also collected donations for items to sell at its own sale, under a large tent.
“Two to three months before the actual date, people would drop things off at my house,” Norton said. “We would price things and box it up, and on the morning of the sale trucks would haul it off to the site.”
Initially set up next to Burnham Hall, the Weathervane folks relocated the sale after the catastrophic flood in 1998 to the field near the town library.
“There’s spaces for people to set up a flea market-type situation,” Finger said. “I think that attracted a lot of people from out of town.”
Volunteer teams help sell the items throughout the day. Norton said the events usually bring in $3,000 to $4,000, which directly subsidizes the rent at the three apartment buildings. Not all of the revenue comes from participant fees.
“Some people have done yard sales and donated all of their profits to Weathervane, while some donate some of their profits,” Finger said.
He added that in years past, Robert Fuller, the owner of Leunig’s Bistro in Burlington, has sold crepes and donated half of the profits to Weathervane.
For other revenue sources, Norton said Weathervane used to hold an auction at the event, and currently holds a 50/50 raffle, where ticket buyers don’t have to be present to win.
While a small event at first, with just 20 sales, the event peaked in recent years with more than 40. The Town Wide Yard Sale has grown into a community event, and many local organizations, such as the Lincoln Fire Department, also hold fundraisers that day.
Finger said the popularity of the annual sale reached its zenith several years ago, and has since suffered from competition from other towns.
“They’ve tagged onto the idea that it’s a good way to bring a lot of attention to a town, with a bunch of yard sales all at once,” Finger said. “So, I think the number of registered yard sales (in Lincoln) has dropped off in recent years.”
Still, the number of participants in the Lincoln sale remains strong.
“I think it’s probably in the mid-30s, which is still pretty awesome for a good-sized community,” Norton said. “Not only to people get to see and shop for these goodies, but they get to tour Lincoln and see the beautiful community we have.”
Neither snow nor rain nor heat will keep the sale, held every Memorial Day weekend, from going on as scheduled.
“We’ve had snow some years and sweltering heat some other years,” Norton said.
Finger added that no matter what Mother Nature serves up, the sale always has a good turnout.
“If you come here on Saturday morning, it gets crazy,” Finger said. “A lot of people just wander around and look at all the stuff, and neighbors come out and sell stuff on their porches.”
Residents do not have to pay the $15 fee to hold a yard sale that day, and some hold sales on their own.
“Everyone gets in on the action in their own way,” Finger said.
Norton said it’s difficult to tell how many residents will register for the sale this year, since many wait until the last minute, owing to Vermont’s notoriously fickle weather patterns. Residents can register at the Lincoln General Store. So far, more than 20 townspeople have signed up.
This year’s sale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 24.
FORMER WEATHERVANE UNITED board member Linda Norton, left, and current Weathervane President Bill Finger pose with one of the stakes distributed to participants of the Lincoln Town Wide Yard Sale to let bargain-hunters know what homes are selling items. Independent photo/Zach Despart

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