10th annual Junk Jaunt - bigger and better than ever

The 10th annual Junk Jaunt is in the books - and by all accounts was bigger and better than ever! In April 2004, the tourism committee of Loup Rivers Scenic Byway came up with the idea of organizing a long-distance garage sale. During the next five months, Nebraska’s Junk Jaunt was launched with a handful of volunteers, $500 in advertising donations and the use of a copy machine at the Loup Basin RC&D office. Organizers say they received a great deal of criticism over the name during that inaugural year, with such comments as “The name is awful! Nobody will come to a junk sale!” However, the past 10 years have proved the naysayers wrong. People have come - by the thousands! The first Junk Jaunt shopper’s guide was 50 pages; this year it was 140 pages. The event has grown every year, and still continues to grow. The number of registered sales/vendors has increased from 150 the first year, to nearly 600 in 2012. Conservative estimates of ‘Junkers’ who shop the 35 communities participating in this year’s jaunt, has increased from 2,000 to more than 20,000 in its 10 year existence. Statistics show that Nebraska’s Junk Jaunt has become a nation-wide event. Organizers say license plate surveys done in 2009 and 2011, tell them the event draws shoppers from 34 states, several from Canada and at least 79 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Materials are no longer printed on a borrowed office copy machine. Due to the overwhelming support of vendors and businesses, the printing of brochures, signs and shopper guides is hired out to businesses within the nine-county Junk Jaunt area. Office staff consists of a full-time volunteer coordinator, a part-time assistant, and volunteer coordinators from each of the 35 participating towns and villages. Many of the ‘Junkers’ have returned to the area for the event each year since 2004. Some plan their vacations around the Junk Jaunt, some are retired and just look forward to the annual event. Many of the vendors along the trail have also participated all 10 years. Neighbors Pam Zulkoski and Shirley Smith of Ord are included among those veteran vendors. Pam says she has been a garage sale junkie for years, and has always been part of Ord’s city-wide garage sale. So the idea of doing a sale for Junk Jaunt was not a stretch for her. When her friend approached her with “I’ll do it if you do it”, Pam says the game was on. Ten years later, the neighbors are still setting up tables in their garages and driveways and welcoming thousands of people onto their lawns. And Pam says they are having a blast! “This year we actually decided we were going to take a break from it for a year. We even signed a ‘contract’ saying we were not going to have a sale this year. But as the time got closer, we changed our minds,” Pam laughs. Being a garage saler at heart, Pam says she would love the opportunity to be able to go on the Junk Jaunt herself. But being a vendor has its perks as well. “I enjoy doing it - I really enjoy the people,” says Pam. “We have such a good time - and we will be there next year!” Pam says she and Shirley had no idea what to expect that first year. No one did. At that time she owned a steak house in Ord, and was trying to operate both her sale and her business during the busy Junk Jaunt. “That first year was crazy!” Pam says she ran out of food at the restaurant, and the number of people they served far exceeded anything they ever anticipated. “The event has grown every year, and so has our sale,” she says. Friends and neighbors bring items to add to her sale, and for the past three years her cousins from Arapahoe have come to Ord for the weekend to join in. “We have met people from all over the U.S. Some of the same ones have come back every year.” Pam tells about two ladies from Columbus she met in year one of the Junk Jaunt. There were no rooms available in town that night, so Pam put the women up in the steak house for the night. They have been back to see their new friend every year. “This year a lady showed up at my sale and said to me, ‘Remember this shirt? I bought it here last year!’ “But my favorite story from this year was, one lady was standing in line to purchase at item and another lady came up behind her and said, ‘I was going to buy that.’ The first lady said, ‘I tell you what. I only need it for my daughters wedding. Why don’t you give me your number and when I am done with it, I will sell it to you.’ I just thought that was pretty cool,” says Pam. Nebraska’s Junk Jaunt is held annually the last full weekend of September. So mark your calendars for 2014 - and if you are a vendor, start saving your ‘junk’; and if you are a ‘jaunter’ start saving your cash - and we will see you next year!