Garage sales Downtown

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August 20, 2002 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Swenson
Julie Swenson

OK, so people don't hang for-sale signs in the skyways, but if you look hard, you can find cheap plants and bargain file cabinets

One of the only things I like about the suburbs is garage sales. You can drive down Shady Oak Road, 76th Street or Lexington Ave. on any Thursday morning during the summer and find bargains galore. A couple weeks ago, I took a trek down Shady Oak and found a Kate Spade purse for $10. I am not making this up. A Minnetonka madam was bored with last year's brown and pink look and had a few selections at her garage sale. The bummer is that her kid's peanut butter cup was still in the purse, but with a little ingenuity and Mrs. Myers lavender dish soap I got my Kate Spade looking like new in no time.

So what do you do when you need that kind of bargain for your business? There are no garage sales Downtown. People don't arrange surplus office supplies on tables in their parking stalls and hang signs in the skyway inviting co-workers to come over and buy stuff at lunch. Garage sales Downtown take the form of office estate sales advertised in the "Who's moving" and "Who's filing for bankruptcy" sections of the paper.

I found a Downtown sale recently in the International Center, the tall office building with the fancy LeeAnn Chin restaurant in the lobby. A big law firm had just moved out and they were selling off three floors of stuff.

There was everything from outdated conference tables (think '80s salmon-colored marble with matching velour chairs) to faux chrome planters, all up for grabs at bizarre prices. The aforementioned conference table was going for over $3,500 while the faux planters with very real, very healthy and gorgeous plants you'd get at Bachman's for $50 were down to $2.50. Then I remembered that the people pricing these things charge $250 an hour to talk on the phone, and it all became clear.

Other than dating a lawyer or two, I have never seen the inside of one of those fancy Downtown law firms. As much as for the bargains, I went to the sale to see the space where these smart, overpaid guys all work as much as I. Besides, since none of those lawyers wanted to get married and have kids -- with me anyway -- I didn't have to drive anyone to soccer practice or make anyone dinner that day.

I had a whim and I could follow it. I wanted to see if there would be something in the feng shui of the space that I could duplicate in my own humble office, and perhaps become overpaid, too. And even if there wasn't any feng, I really needed to get a new filing cabinet. The $30 one I got at Target in 1994 is so dented it won't open. I have no idea what's inside it anymore and I desperately needed to take care of my 10-foot-high to-be-filed pile. I've set my sights on a large lateral file. At Office Depot the good ones start at $350. Even with free delivery, that's out of my league.

So I signed in at the security desk and jumped on the elevator. I was the only one at the estate sale in the offices that sprawled through three floors of grandeur. It was eerie being alone with all that leftover opulence -- but I could get used to it. The views were incredible and each office was bigger than my apartment. I felt like a humble little mouse digging through the lateral files to find the one with the fewest dings.

Secretly, I was hoping to find some crumbs of gossip -- leftover files on a celebrity divorce or a juicy pre-nup from Minnesota royalty -- but there was nothing of the sort. The lateral files were all completely empty except for a misplaced birthday card signed "Best wishes, Dave" in one, and an ancient peanut-butter cup in another. I got the estate sale lady to give me half off the peanut-butter-cupped lateral file and presto! I had a bargain.

After a little Ajax and a lot of elbow grease, it's as good as the Office Depot models that cost 10 times the price.

In addition to ferreting out old peanut-butter cups, Julie Swenson ( is owner of Abbas Public Relations.