Most likely know the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but for some in our local area, the allure of a garage, estate and home sale takes on a much different mystique.
For Garden Oaks residents Linda Acker and Sylvia Munoz, their routes to the pursuit of hidden treasures came about in varying fashions, but spawned a passion all the same, which endures to this very day.
“I just had a lot of time on my hands — I started going to resale shops and garage sales, and then I opened a little business in a flea market,” said Acker, who now works as an antique dealer at Thompson’s Antique Center. “I really just kind of got into it by accident. Just had time on my hands, and started going out and buying stuff — it became an obsession.”
For some such as Acker, it’s the thrill of the chase. For others, it’s a question of need or a hobby. But for Munoz it’s truly an art — one she has undertaken for nearly a decade, not only for herself, but for the mutual benefit of her customers and her antique shop in the Heights.
“I love going to garage sales and estate sales, and moving sales — for some reason I even go to the backyards and go through the bushes to see if there are any little statues. I go a little beyond what other people going to garage sales are looking for,” Munoz said with a laugh. “If you go to my garage, it’s full of antiques right now, because it’s getting towards that time where I’m already going to have another sale.”
Following expeditions nearly every weekend, Munoz twice a year displays a full, extravagant spread with precious trinkets collected from her own treasure hunting over the years. Garage sale-ing is not just for her own gain, she says, but for those repeat customers she now calls friends, as well as those she has not yet met.
“With a lot of garage sales, people are selling clothing, baby items, and more of their personal items. But if you go to my garage sale, it’s become more of a trend where I go out and buy in order to re-sell,” she said. “I’m thinking in terms of ‘If I buy this, [person’s name here] will buy it, or someone else will buy it.’ I’m out there thinking about how I’m going to turn it around and sell it.”
Whether as a seller or a buyer, Munoz said she always keeps an ear out for what those in the neighborhood might be keyed in on; a process which may seem stressful from the outside looking in. However, Munoz said she finds the endeavor a therapeutic one due to the symbiotic nature purpose her trips typically take on.
“I know that if I buy something, it’s either going to the shop, to the house because it’s something I love and can do something with, or I found it for somebody else. I feel like I’m out there shopping not just for me, but for my own return customers,” she said, noting that despite the cycle of spending money to make money, she easily manages to turn a nice profit.
Acker said sale-goers tend to gather in packs, and said on occasion the familiarity breeds some friendly fire, seeing as for many, it’s about the thrill of the chase.
“You always see a lot of the same people, plus a lot of us are looking for the exact same thing, so it’s a bit of a friendly competition,” she said, briefly recounting an encounter where, though still cordial, someone attempted to snipe a purse away from her that she had already bought.
“I just gave him a dirty look and said I had already bought it. He was trying to outbid me after I had already paid!” she said with a hearty laugh. “Sometimes it’s about whoever’s the fastest, and my husband and I aren’t that fast anymore, so we kind of depend on luck.”
Trekking through the sweltering Houston heat, however, she said, is worth the chase. Throughout her decades of garage sale-ing, Acker has found many hidden gems—including an old woodblock print by Gustaf Bowman, which she says is her most prized find to this day.
“I ended up selling it through an art gallery, and they sent me a check for $8,400. It was probably a $10,000 piece overall, and it was completely by accident,” she said. “I didn’t really know a lot about art, and had a friend tell me it was very valuable from a famous artist. That was pretty cool—it was sort of my ‘Antique Roadshow’ moment.”
In the end, Munoz said, that feeling and that rush is what it’s all about every time she opens for business, whether it be her antique shop or the friendly competition of garage sale goers.
“I’m going to try to sell what the customers are looking for, not what I like, so that when they come back they like what they see,” she said. “I try to listen to people, what they’re looking for and what they like.”