Such a deal: 56th Rotary Auction takes center stage Saturday

It’s the world’s largest garage sale. Or so say the members of the Rotary Club of Bainbridge.

The 56th Rotary Auction includes everything from boats

It’s the world’s largest garage sale. Or so say the members of the Rotary Club of Bainbridge.

And no one would argue with them that it’s the sale of the year around these parts.

“We just take over Woodward Middle School, inside and out,” said auction chairman Tom McCloskey.

And this year, like only a handful of the 56 years that there’s been a sale, it will fall on July 2, and is targeted to be a part of the big Celebrate Bainbridge Island festivities that include a street dance on July 3, the 4th of July parade downtown and the fireworks show that evening on Eagle Harbor.

Because of the school year calendar, the kids go to school through June 15, that wouldn’t leave the Rotarians enough time to assemble the sale for that following Saturday.

“We don’t want to be in there, pushing the teachers out before they’ve had time to close up their classrooms,” he said. “So we moved it back a week. We thought, too, if there were any snow days or weather make-up days, we’d be in a real mess.”

Assembling the sale began Friday, June 24 and continued thorough Wednesday, June 29, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. On those days, volunteers spent full days to unload donations.

“The community is so good to us,” McCloskey said. “They donate items that are worth a lot of money because they support the work we do.”

Proceeds from the auction are spent on local projects including parks, sports fields, dance floors, theater seats. Funds also are used by other nonprofits organizations, on scholarships and to cover the costs of drilling wells in Uganda and buying sanitation equipment in Guatemala. Last year they made a record $481,000.

“We have some great young volunteers who fill shopping carts at the curb and bring the donations inside,” he said. “And they do that all day long, trip after trip, back and forth for hours.”

More than 4,000 vehicles drop items off. More than 150,000 items are gathered to be sold.

Assembly is done in “departments,” he said. This year there will be sections for everything from household items to books to electronics. Of those departments, the bicycle section is a popular one.

“We usually have about 350 to 450 bicycles and they’re gone by 10 a.m.,” McCloskey said. “About 60 percent of everything goes in the first two hours.”

And believe it or not, the sale typically gets 12 to 15 cars donated.

“We can make upward of $25,000 on that,” he said.

The auction begins at 8 a.m. July 2 at the school at 9125 Sportsman Club Road. As those who go each year know, shoppers begin lining up outside the door as early as 6 a.m. Most years, as many as 5,000 people come to shop for bargains.

In all, there’s six acres of stuff, including the outdoor tent where the fine furnishings and antiques are located.

“The volunteers set up displays like it was their living room or bedroom,” he said. “We get a remarkable amount of high quality furnishings.”

Clothing is another popular item and volunteers sort and arrange items by size, men’s, women’s and children’s. Electronics are checked, cleaned and repaired if needed.

McCloskey said it takes 1,400 volunteers to make the sale happen.

“That includes about 250 to 300 young people who give their time,” he said. “Some of them do it to complete their community service for the high school. But we have kids as young as 10, 11, 12 who help out.”

And he said the sale is sometimes like a reunion.

“We have volunteers who, the only time they see each other is setting up the auction,” he said.

And those who know the sale, know they can pay $2 on Friday to preview the auction from 5 to 8 p.m.

“Some families do that,” he said. “They plot out what they want and where it is, and then they have various members of their family go in different directions when the doors open. That’s the way to make sure you get what you want.”

But he warns, if you don’t want to run, stay to the back of the pack when lining up outside the school property. And be ready to sing the National Anthem  before the doors open.

At the preview, raffle tickets can be purchased and great door prizes are given away.

One of the best things about the sale, he said, is that it becomes a re-purposing, recycling event.

“We are a socially responsible community,” he said. “This sale is an important part of taking care of our island.”

What doesn’t sale is donated to nonprofits on the island, and the Rotary’s “Green Team” recycles what remains.

Previously, the club has been able to pick up donations for the elderly or disabled. But because of the increasing costs of getting trucks, laborers, and gasoline, pick ups will now be $25 for seniors and disabled, and $50 for anyone else.

“We’ve got the Bainbridge Island Rowing Team lined up and they’ll provide the labor,” McCloskey said.

To schedule a pick up, call 360-942-9111 and leave a message. Calls will be returned within a day or two.

Because the club doesn’t have storage, they can’t take any donations until the week before the sale. But many folks are like McCloskey and create a place to stash their items at home.

“Starting about October, we begin putting donations in one room of our house,” he said. “By the time the auction rolls around, the room is filled.”

On the day of the sale, parking is limited. But there are buses from park and rides on the island that will drop off shoppers at the school.

Information on all aspects of the auction is online at, or on Facebook at Rotary Auction. A listing of where each department is located can be found under the departments tab on the website.


Why it’s called an auction:

For years, it was simply called the Rotary Auction, which it was at its inception, Tom McCloskey said.

“Over the years, it has become more of a rummage sale. So, in 2014, we introduced a logo that rebranded the event as the Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale.

“To this day, there are numerous ‘silent auctions’ that take place in a number of the departments. Often these silent auctions morph into a live auction, especially when two or more people have submitted ‘competitive’ bids for an item that is subject to a silent auction.”


The basics

Who: The Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island and volunteers

What: 56th Annual Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale

When: Auction is 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 2; preview night is 5 to 8 p.m. July 1

Where: Woodward Middle School, 9125 Sportsman Club Road

Why: To raise funds for community grants and local nonprofit organizations, school projects, scholarships and humanitarian aid.


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