A sign on a tree by the front gate says Janice Taylor’s yard sale occurs “12 to dark. Sunday and ALL WEEK.” If you’ve just moved to Wrigleyville, Taylor will try to interest you in buying something, though it may not be exactly what you’re looking for. Today she has a variety of items on display in front of her white frame house on the corner of Cornelia and Sheffield. There’s a green-and-white owl-shaped ceramic lamp stand, a finished wooden box that she says “could be a stereo cabinet, a coffee table, or a computer table,” a fan, dozens of books, copies of Muscle & Fitness magazine, a tennis racket, a dartboard, a terrarium, various pieces of wicker furniture, some rugs and doormats, a plastic shark with a female torso in its mouth, a mini billiards table, a set of encyclopedias from the 1960s, a Lollapalooza T-shirt, ski boots, and a vacuum cleaner. There are also hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other objects covered by blue tarpaulin. Taylor, who’s 77, simply hasn’t had time to put them on display.
Taylor lives in an apartment down the street, but has devoted the last 20 years to working on her “dream house.” She was recently informed by the city that she has to have her yard cleared out by the end of October due to zoning restrictions. Taylor says she’ll get the work done, but fears a land grab will follow. “I’ve lived in apartments my whole life,” she says, “and when I bought this house, I said, ‘I’m gonna have grass under my feet! I gotta have grass under my feet!'”
Since 1990, Taylor’s used the front yard, back shed, garage, and basement as repositories for her sale items. During baseball season she allows discriminating customers to park their cars in her driveway. Until recently she rented out the second floor, and says she plans on eventually moving in herself. She uses the first floor for storing antiques, furs, and clothes left over from the 1960s, when she owned a resale shop on Newport, the precursor to such neighborhood vintage outlets as Strange Cargo and Flashy Trash. For Taylor, the house is merely an extension of the business she’s been in for as long as she can remember.
“I don’t want to bring this stuff inside,” she says. “It isn’t worth moving inside. Just put it in the alley and somebody else can pick it up. I used to hang my clothes up there and dry them. No more. Affluent neighborhood. But the city would love to snatch this place. They’d love the lot. They could build 16 condominiums, about six town houses. Location, location, they like to call it. I knew that I was only zoned for dwelling, but now that the neighborhood is coming up…affluent neighborhood, rezoning for condominiums…Like I say, I could sell the place and make money, but what am I gonna do? I don’t wanna go.”
A fashionably dressed young woman stops by.
“Anything special you’re looking for today?” Taylor asks.
“Dresser, kitchen table,” the woman says.
“Look around, see what you can’t live without, and after 40 years you will have your own yard sale.”
“You have furniture inside?”
“I’m looking for a dresser, a kitchen table.”
“I don’t have a kitchen table. I don’t have a dresser. I could sell ten of ’em if I had ’em. They’re in demand. I can’t get ’em. Beautiful. I have records. But I haven’t hauled any of this stuff down today, because I got stuck doin’ something.”
When the woman leaves empty-handed, Taylor says, “She wanted a dresser, but I got about ten people asking for a dresser. I can’t get a dresser.
“These young people don’t have money to buy antiques,” she says. “I have everything they need when they move. They sit on a box, they eat from a box, they have no furniture. All these young people, a lot of them come stay a year and then they leave. They just want stuff to get along with. They buy a lot of plants. They buy a lot of furniture, small pieces. They buy anything plastic. They don’t have no big money; they want something for two or three dollars. I never cheated anyone. If somebody ever bought something from me and they didn’t like it, they bring it back to me, and I give them the money, good-bye. The next day I sell it for even more. And when they move in, one tells the other where to get it. I have so many people jamming my yard I can’t believe it.”
A man in a Cubs hat stops by the yard. Taylor’s wearing her own baseball cap over her stringy blond hair. It reads “Torrey Pines.”
“Whaddya need?” Taylor asks.
“I have a Weber.”
“You know, about like this,” Taylor says, making round motions with her arms.
“Where is it?”
“I didn’t bring it today. Do you live around here?”
“Yeah, just around the corner.”
“Round the corner? OK. If you really want one, drop by. I’ll get it for you. I put it away already.”
“When will I bring it?”
“I can bring it maybe tomorrow because of the good weather. I put it away already for winter because no one needs it.”
“Best time to buy one.”
“Well, come on by. I’ll have it for you. It’s about this big.” She motions again with her hands.
Later, Taylor’s scooping out dog food onto some paper for her scruffy terrier named Tibet. “He’s a sheep dog,” she says. “He’s got wool.”
Georgine from Skokie stops by wearing a purple scarf and enormous, odd-shaped glasses. She’s known Taylor for a while.
“I seen a pretty plate,” Georgine says.
“Want it for a quarter?”
Georgine nods and picks up the plate. “It’s so pretty. I just love the pretty flowers and the designs. I’ll think of you every time I use it, Janice.”
“Well, thank you dear.”
“I’ve been thinking of you, Janice.”
“I’ve been thinking of you too. How much you’ve gone through.”
“I’ll always think of you when I eat off it. I love the pretty little flowers. Maybe if you get any more flowers you could set ’em aside, and next time I come in…I love little flowers, and I love trees, and you know I love animals.”
Georgine hands me two snapshots, one of a dog and the other of a pigeon in a cage. She’s written on the back of the pigeon photo: “Here is Georgine’s SNOW BIRD. Proud and standing, look at his glossy feathers. He is well-kept and has his little outing for an hour or more daily. He comes out on a chicken wire so he doesn’t hurt himself. He is flightless because of the North winter winds here in the cold Midwest. He is fine otherwise. I love my SNOW BIRD a lot. Georgine loves her animals a lot.”
Georgine notices a large bamboo fan that’s hanging from one of Taylor’s trees. “That’s a beautiful fan. How much is that, Janice?”
“Well, it’s three dollars, but I’ll give it to you for two, if you’d like it.”
“It’s so pretty. Let’s see what I’ve got in here.” She rummages through her wallet and finds the money.
“That was lacquered,” Taylor says. “That’s what I like. And the colors for fall.”
“It needs to be an adornment on the wall. I have lots and lots of pictures on my wall. It’s so pretty. I’ll always think of you. Well, I think of you anyway, Janice.”
Taylor pauses. “Well,” she says, “you certainly left an impression on me.”
One weekday afternoon an old man stops by and leans on the front gate. He’s wearing a felt hat and a ripped blue-and-gold sweater over a red checkered shirt.
“I like that big tree,” he says in a soft brogue.
“Like that big tree? You know it cost me $1,500 to saw down five trees when I moved here?” she says.
“Nice big tree. It’s a nice one in the yard.”
“It gives a nice shade. How do you like my house after we repainted it?”
“It looks wonderful. Changed altogether from before.”
“It’s a whole new roof. The chimney’s been tuckpointed.”
“You look like you’re planning to stay.”
“That’s right. I’ve got the top apartment for myself.”
“Sixteen thousand dollars, probably, this house is worth? Sell it for 16 thousand?”
“No, no. No, no, no. I’m not selling the building. I’m keeping it. I’m too old to go looking around. How long have you seen me here?”
“You bought stuff from me, didn’t you?”
“What did you buy?”
“I bought a…I bought a…”
“Did you like what you got from me? I remember selling to you. You told me to save it for you.”
“I got a cooking grill.”
“I still have it.”
“You have it? Good.”
“It’s a nice one, too. It goes on and off. It gets hot, goes off, gets hot, goes off. You’ll be getting stuff in for the winter soon, won’t you?”
“Yeah,” Taylor says. “Gotta get the yard out.”
The old man wanders away. “He’s on his last legs,” Taylor says. “He can’t afford nothing. So I give it to him cheap.”
A middle-aged man rides past on a rickety bicycle. “Hey, blondie, how you doin’?” he shouts.
“Good, good,” Taylor shouts back, then turns to me. “He’s a construction worker. He buys his boots, only the best, from me. He can’t pay $80 for a new pair! He comes to me. They all know me here.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.