The weather forecast may be ideal, but amid coronavirus fears, the overall outlook appears less than sunny for the U.S. 11 Antique Alley multi-state yard sale this weekend.
With no official sanctioning body and a route that covers 502 miles through five states, starting just over the Tennessee line in Bristol, Virginia, the sale is likely to find buyers and sellers in some communities, despite ongoing health concerns. But tourism officials at the event's southern terminus in Meridian, Mississippi, are discouraging participation.
"We'll have a few vendors set up [in the parking lot]," said Chad Roderick, owner of Hot Spot Antique Mall in Athens, Tennessee. "I've talked to a couple of people online, and as far as they're concerned, it's still going on. But then people locally, coming into the store, several say they're not going to do it."
Held on the Thursday through Sunday after Mother's Day, U.S. 11 Antique Alley is the first of three annual multistate yard sales that run through or near Chattanooga. Its route through the tri-state includes Monroe, McMinn, Bradley and Hamilton counties in Tennessee, Dade County in Georgia and DeKalb County in Alabama.
Antique Alley is followed in June by the Dixie Highway 90-Mile Sale, from Ringgold to Marietta in North Georgia, and in August by the World's Longest Yard Sale, which covers a 690-mile section of Highway 127 between Michigan and Alabama.
All depend on the voluntary participation of vendors with merchandise to sell and shoppers in search of bargains, a grassroots interaction of supply and demand designed to draw commerce to byway communities away from the buzz of interstate exits.
Melissa Stanley, an antiques dealer from Mooresville, Indiana, said she had hoped to hit the spring sale again this year, but the rise of the coronavirus has convinced her to sit this one out. She came through Chattanooga in 2016 on a 150-mile buying spree that started in Knoxville and ended in Fort Payne, Alabama.
"The goal was to attend this sale this year," she said. "However, I don't know if I feel comfortable traveling so far yet. I also think the virus will cause a drastic decrease in participation from both shoppers and sellers."
Teresa Westbrook, an antiques dealer who manages a Facebook page for Antique Alley vendors in West Alabama and East Mississippi, said although both states' stay-at-home orders have expired, the Meridian area has been "a hot spot" for coronavirus cases and residents have been encouraged to maintain social distancing.
"But this isn't something you have to register to set up for," Westbrook said of the sale. "We have no control over whether you do or you don't."
Meanwhile in Virginia, the northern terminus, residents remain under stay-at-home restrictions through June 10.
The Old Home Place, in Reece City, Alabama, about 90 miles south of Chattanooga, is normally a gathering place for shoppers and sellers, but owner Gloria Sitz said she's turning away her regular vendors this year, partly due to coronavirus concerns and partly due to continuing cleanup efforts from an Easter tornado that damaged the roof of the event venue. The guest book she leaves out during the sale has recorded visitors from Nova Scotia, Australia, New York and California, she said.
"We have people from all over who come through for the sale," she said.
Sitz said she's had dozens of calls from people wondering about her portion of the route and the sale in general. People seem to want to come, she said, "but they're not sure they'll find anybody out."
A longtime website for the sale, us11antiquealley.com, which lists all 80 communities along the route, had not been updated for 2020 as of Tuesday afternoon. Information on some of the community pages, which list stops for food, lodging and shopping opportunities along the way, is several years old. Efforts to reach the website's owner, the U.S. 11 Antique Alley Association in Rising Fawn, Georgia, were not successful.
The Hamilton County Health Department said shoppers and sellers who decide to participate should take precautions, such as wearing masks, keeping hand sanitizer at the ready and avoiding cash in favor of electronic payments when possible.
The Hamilton County Health Department recommends the following safety precautions for buyers and sellers during the U.S. 11 Antique Alley yard sale this weekend.
* Wear masks when they get out of the car, while they shop, during the purchase process and until they get back in the car.
* Use hand sanitizer after every stop.
* Spread their items out farther over their property to promote social distancing.
* Wear masks when customers are on their property.
* Avoid cash and consider using debit/credit cards or other electronic form of payment, such as PayPal.
* Keep hand sanitizer available.
More information can be found under retail guidelines from Gov. Bill Lee’s office at https://www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19/economic-recovery/retail-guidelines.html.
Save the date
* June 5-7: Dixie Highway 90-Mile Yard Sale
* Aug. 6-9: World’s Longest Yard Sale on Highway 127
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.