ALLAGASH, Maine — Bargain hunters, start your engines.
While in no way an officially sanctioned race, this weekend’s 30-mile yard sale in northern Maine is drawing shoppers, collectors and the curious from as far away as Florida, and the well-organized early birds definitely had the advantage.
Just ask Nancy Paradis, a veteran of countless yard sales and flea markets.
Joined by three like-minded friends, the quartet was hitting every garage, yard and estate sale between Fort Kent and Allagash with grail quest fervor.
“The one thing I really want to say is I hope they do this again next year,” Paradis said during a lunch stop at Twin Rivers Restaurant in Allagash.
According to organizers, it’s a safe bet Paradis will get her wish.
“We have a few flea markets up here every year on a smaller scale,” said Rhonda Caron, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s always in a couple different locations, and every year people found it hard to pack up their stuff to bring it to sell for two days and then bring it back home.”
In a sort of “bringing the mountain to Muhammad” move, Caron teamed up with Lisa Morine and Darlene Dumond to loosely organize what they came to call the 30-mile yard sale.
“Last year I suggested we try to do something different,” Caron said. “I said, ‘Let’s have a 30-mile sale and invite everyone to participate.’”
There were no fees or official signup sheets for the event, which kicked off Friday and lasts through July 4.
Word was put out through phone calls, word-of-mouth and on Facebook pages.
“We really have no clue how many people are going to participate,” Caron said. “I think there will be a lot more than I expect.”
Caron welcomed the first shoppers to her yard sale in St. John Plantation at 8:30 a.m. Friday and a few hours later was thrilled to learn there were at least 25 more sales between her home and Allagash with more opening as the day wore on.
Working that route with military precision were Paradis, Pam Crawford of Presque Isle, Laurette Adams of Mars Hill and her mother-in-law, Margaret Adams of Easton.
Ranging in age from 46 to 84, the women had hit the road from Paradis’ Cross Lake home just before 7:30 that morning.
“I had a sleepover at the house so we could get an early start,” Paradis said. “Of course, we stayed up way too late playing pinball.”
The women, who all originally met at yard sales, were eager to show off their finds for the morning — all piled carefully in the back of Laurette Adams’ Suburban.
“Laurette had to audition for the largest vehicle,” Crawford joked.
“Yeah, and I brought two tow bars just in case,” Adams said.
The newly acquired treasures included a massive ash basket, a small stringed harp, antique tins, crocks and a bean pot.
“Wait a minute,” Paradis said as she prepared to close the tailgate. “Who bought that tofu book?”
James and Germaine Pelletier came all the way from Wolcott, Conn., to check out the sales.
Originally from Fort Kent, Pelletier said he’d planned a return trip to St. John Valley this summer and decided to come home in time for the yard sale.
“I love tag sales and flea markets,” Pelletier said. “I love old saws and wagon wheels, and I collect all that stuff.”
It’s more than the items, his wife pointed out.
“He always finds treasures,” Germaine Pelletier said, looking at her husband. “A lot of times those treasures are old friends we see at these sales.”
“I’ve had yard sales in the past and enjoy them so much because I see old classmates or people I’ve not seen for years,” she said. “There’s a lot of socializing.”
Stopping in to check out what Caron had this year were Dale and Daphne O’Leary of Mars Hill, who were met in the driveway by Caron as they drove in.
“Uh-oh,” Daphne O’Leary said to her husband. “She has something to show you.”
The couple had spent Thursday night in their Allagash camp to get a jump on the day.
“We should have brought the pickup,” Dale O’Leary said. “The car is right full.”
While all that buying and selling was fun, Caron noted that much of it was also for a good cause.
“There are a lot of fundraisers going on throughout this,” she said. “Plus myself and a few others are going to donate to things so the money will just flow around.”
Among the fundraisers was a group in Allagash that prepares and delivers home-cooked meals to the elderly and shut-ins once a week.
“We feed about 33 people a week,” Penny Kelly said from her giant yard sale in Allagash. “We are raising funds for that.”
Adding to the fun, Caron said, is a “mystery item” dropped off secretly at an undisclosed sale.
“Whoever buys it will win a prize,” she said.
“When we do something in this community, we do it large,” Dumond said. “I spent last week up here just getting things unpacked for the sale.”
Her hometown of Allagash decided to go one step further with the yard sale idea and organized a series of events tied in with July 4, including a parade, barbecues and a huge bonfire.
“It has been absolutely amazing today,” Dumond said as she checked out an estate sale in St. John on Friday afternoon. “I can’t imagine someone not finding what they want today — there’s a little bit of everything.”
Certainly Paradis and her posse were finding treasures as each left the estate sale with everything from canning jars to Christmas decorations to stuff into the back of Crawford’s SUV.
“We can keep going,” Crawford said. “We haven’t even used the bungee cords yet.”