Popular Wake Robin Tag Sale Returns After Three-Year Hiatus | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Popular Wake Robin Tag Sale Returns After Three-Year Hiatus

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Published June 15, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

At 8:59 a.m. on Saturday, Jim Wick opened the door of the community parking garage at Wake Robin, a high-end, hilltop retirement community in Shelburne. The first shopper had arrived at 6:30 a.m. By 6:45, a line had begun to form. Now cars were parked bumper-to-bumper along the road leading to the residences, and hundreds of masked customers were flooding in, on the lookout for cut-rate treasures. They quickly transformed the cavernous space into a bustling marketplace.

Wick, a Wake Robin resident and floor manager of the community's tag sale, clanged a bell. Volunteers clapped and cheered as a seemingly unending stream of people, reusable shopping bags in hand, beelined it to rectangular folding tables overflowing with art, jewelry, books and antiques.

After a three-year pandemic hiatus, the popular Wake Robin tag sale — an annual event that's run for almost three decades — drew a throng once again. Both residents and shoppers seemed happy to be back.

Kit Wilson, wearing a blue apron bearing her first name, sat at one of the six checkout stations at the front of the garage, which is big enough to hold around 50 cars. Wilson moved to Wake Robin in 1996, a few weeks before the community's first tag sale. She has volunteered at all of them and watched the event steadily grow over the years.

Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

The tag sale is "more than a moneymaker for us," Wilson said as she enjoyed a few minutes of calm before customers flowed in. "It's a whole year's project." It's also a testament to the community spirit at Wake Robin, she said.

Organizers collect donations from Wake Robin residents throughout the year. Each of the dozen or so departments — art, books, crafts and so on — has a captain in charge of pricing and storing the inventory as it comes in.

In the weeks before this year's sale, 17 teams of residents fanned out across Chittenden and parts of Addison counties, putting up flyers and roadside sandwich boards advertising the event. More than 150 of Wake Robin's 400 residents donated their time and labor. The day before the sale opened to the public, residents and staff got first dibs on shopping.

Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

Each sale typically brings in $20,000, which helps fund Wake Robin's robust program offerings for residents: beekeeping, silversmithing, handbell choir, pickleball. The retirement community offers different accommodations based on residents' needs, including independent living, assisted living, nursing support and memory care, explained resident Sarah Meyers, one of the main organizers. Seniors often downsize as they switch from one level of care to the next, she said.

The annual sale proves you're never too old for a good deal. Among the first to arrive was Jen Colman, young by Wake Robin standards but a veteran of eight previous sales. The Burlington woman loves the eclectic mix of items and how well organized it is. She's become chummy with a handful of perennial early birds, who engage in small talk as they wait for the garage door to open.

Jess Goerold, a former Vermont resident who now lives in Troy, N.Y., is one of them. Goerold woke early to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Shelburne, the first stop on a weekend getaway. She loves the "convivial" atmosphere and the "super friendly" attitude of the folks who run the sale.

Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

That's not to say there isn't competition when it comes to getting the crème de la crème. Amy Beattie of Burlington, a second-timer, discussed her shopping strategy as she waited. "If you like it, take it," she advised.

As the first hour ticked by, it was clear that Beattie's advice was sage. A full table of puzzles was reduced to just a single one in short order. Houseplants, priced around $2 apiece, went "like hotcakes," noted Molly Comeau, who was working in the gardening section.

Joan Robinson — presiding over piles of colorful Pyrex bowls, casserole dishes and juicers — noted that everyday silverware was a top seller in the kitchen and housewares section.

The tag sale is "the ultimate department store," Robinson said. "Neiman Marcus, move over."

Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

Some customers knew exactly what they were looking for. Beattie's husband, Steve, scooped up a trio of golf-themed goods: a photograph of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson framed with a golf ball from the 2005 Masters Tournament, a wooden golf ball display rack, and a vintage putter he planned to research on the internet.

Colman, who rehabs old jewelry as a hobby, headed straight for the jewelry and collectibles section. She read aloud the prices of the necklaces, bracelets and earrings she'd gathered, and a volunteer wearing a gold fedora and a pink lei added them up on a piece of paper.

As the checkout line stretched to the back of the garage, Cathy Marshall and Chris Zappala of Charlotte waited patiently to pay for their finds — including a framed floral watercolor by Vermont artist Katharine Montstream for $40 and a Sony Walkman cassette player for $1. They said they were looking forward to playing old tapes for their kids.

Wake Robin tag sale - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wake Robin tag sale

Three young women from Burlington had collected several bags' worth of items for the house they share, including a long terra-cotta window box they were debating whether to fill with herbs or flowers, a framed print giving off 1970s vibes with its green-and-yellow color palette, and the board game Trivial Pursuit.

First-time customers Tammy and Lizzy Katon found out about the sale on Facebook and were impressed by the selection. The mother and daughter from Burlington made out with a jumble of pots and pans, plants, and a Turkish hookah.

At 1 p.m., according to tradition, items were marked down to half price. After the 3 p.m. closing time, the volunteers, described by Meyers as "like a colony of ants," scurried to box up the unwanted goods to donate to nonprofits. They needed to work quickly. Residents were eager to move their cars back into the garage on Sunday.

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Ultimate Department Store"

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