Garage sale lead

St. Joseph has determined garage sales are non essential during the coronavirus crisis. Some auctioneers have found ways to keep doing business, but have seen less sales than usual.

As residents of St. Joseph continue to shelter in place, another community norm has been deemed nonessential in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Health Department declared that garage sales are now officially off the table until the social distancing efforts are relaxed.

St. Joseph Communications & Public Relations Manager Mary Robertson said permits for garage sales already were not being issued due to City Hall being closed, but there had been a discussion over whether or not those permits could be waived or issued online.

With the City Council looking to possibly waive certain fees for businesses next week in an effort to provide relief, it seemed possible that garage sales could see a similar treatment in order to keep money moving, so long as proper distancing measures were practiced.

“If it were up to me, I would say they are not essential,” Robertson said.

A short time after making that statement, Robertson spoke with Health Department Director Debra Bradley, who clarified that garage sales were not going to be allowed. Robertson said the risk outweighs the benefits, but enforcement could be difficult with the city already stretched thin due to enforcement of other social distancing efforts.

Sales are not entirely on hold in the area though, as some auction companies have found ways to safely move some products.

Auctioneer Greg Clement recently held an auction for a single piece of property using a speaker and a microphone to announce for buyers who stayed in their cars.

“I was selling one tract of land and we just had people step forward and lay their driver’s license on a table,” Clement said. “They would pick up a buyer number and go back and get in their vehicles. Everybody was in their vehicles or standing by their vehicles spread out over about, I suppose, 100 yards.”

He said the fact that it was a single item up for bid made this method possible, but other sales likely cannot happen while keeping a safe distance away from each other.

“I wouldn’t even attempt something like a gun auction where you’ve got to gather everybody up,” Clement said. “It just wouldn’t work.”

Jeff Pittman, another auctioneer, has held online auctions for some time, but has seen a drop in work due to the coronavirus.

“It’s kind of slacked our business off quite a little bit,” Pittman said.

He said he has had seven contacts who are interested in holding auctions, but they all have decided to wait. He said he has three online auctions going now, but those could be complicated.

“You still have to have pickup for the online auctions,” Pittman said. “So, we’re trying to do scheduling programs to have online three or four people there every 15 to 20 minutes.”

He said that the city of Columbia, Missouri, has stopped auctioneers from even allowing pickup of items bought online, which makes it basically impossible to hold auctions there.

He does expect a busy period of many auctions and items once the crisis has ended.

Brendan Welch can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.