Naomi Gonzalez of Old Orchard Beach looks over items at a yard sale at Sonia Gardner’s home in the town on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Sonia Gardner sat outside of her house Friday morning, a variety of household items neatly spread out on tables behind her, priced to sell. Signs at the end of the street and driveway marked the yard sale – and her requirement that all shoppers wear masks.

“I advertise as: You wear a mask and I’ll supply the gloves and hand sanitizer,” Gardner said.

Welcome to Maine yard sales in the age of COVID-19.

While their numbers are down to be sure, some Mainers are carrying on the deeply rooted Yankee tradition of spring and summer yard sales by getting creative. Adaptations range from requiring masks to providing gloves to limiting the number of bargain hunters who can browse at one time.

They are the stalwarts. On Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial kickoff to both summer and weekend yard sales – there were scattered sales spread out on front lawns and driveways in southern Maine, but nothing like a typical holiday weekend. Yard sales held annually at churches and schools that attract large crowds of shoppers looking for deals have virtually all been called off and ads for sales on Craigslist and in newspapers are scarce.

In Maine, there is no statewide prohibition on yard sales during the coronavirus pandemic. Some communities require permits, however, and at least one southern Maine town is not issuing permits for them right now because of the public health concerns.

Kate Foye, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, said that while yard sales are generally allowed, the gatherings must not exceed more than 10 people before June 1. The maximum number starting on Monday is 50 people.

“We would remind people of the importance of engaging in physical distancing and wearing masks to protect public health,” Foye said.

Sonia and Michael Gardner sit outside their Old Orchard Beach home where they were having a yard sale Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Some states have set specific standards, or even restricted the sales. Health departments in Ohio and Vermont have issued formal guidelines for people to follow when holding yard sales or garage sales this summer, while other states, including New York, have asked people to hold off on having yard sales.

In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott gave the green light to yard sales on May 19, with the condition that there are no more than 10 people at a time and everyone practices social distancing.

The Ohio Department of Health guidance for garage sales and similar outdoor events says  people holding garage sales should put up posters about social distancing, set up tables 6 feet apart, use heavy-duty tape to form a flow for customers to follow throughout the sale and ask customers to stand in line during high-traffic times.

Ohio health officials also said that hand sanitizer should be available, tables should be cleaned several times throughout the day, all items should be wiped with a disinfectant before being placed out for sale, and that people should wear masks and disposable gloves at all times during the sale.

Several communities in southern Maine that require residents to buy a yard sale permit reported little interest so far this spring. In South Portland, the city clerk’s office has sold just one permit for June. Last year, it issued 18. Only a couple of Wells residents have called Town Hall about yard sale permits, far fewer than usual this time of year, according to the town clerk’s office.

A sign advertising a yard sale and asking people to wear a mask at Sonia Gardner’s home Friday in Old Orchard Beach. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

York also requires residents to get a yard sale permit from the police department, but the town is not issuing them for now, said Deputy Chief Owen Davis.

“We’re just trying to get a handle on everyone being able to do that safely,” Davis said, noting that town officials have been focused on safe ways to reopen beaches and other outdoor recreation areas.

Davis said the department has received only a few requests for yard sale permits, a much lower number than usual for the kickoff to summer. The concern of town officials, he said, is that people aren’t equipped yet with the supplies they need to make a yard sale safe, including wipes to disinfect items that are handled by others.

“I suspect in the very near future we will be opening them up,” Davis said. “We want people to engage in that activity, but we want to make sure everyone is equipped to do it as safely as possible.”

Gardner, who started her yard sale in Old Orchard Beach on Thursday, said she had seen quite a few shoppers during the first two days of her three-day sale. She typically hosts yard sales a few times throughout spring and summer, but this year will do just two because of the coronavirus.

Naomi Gonzalez of Old Orchard Beach looks over items at a yard sale Friday at Sonia Gardner’s home in Old Orchard Beach. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“The people who have been coming for the past two days are excited to see a yard sale,” she said. “It’s so nice to chat with everyone about what’s going on.”

Gardner said it is especially important for her to focus on safety because her husband is a cancer survivor who is at high risk of contracting COVID-19. She set a box of disposable gloves and bottle of hand sanitizer on a table at the edge of her driveway.

Rebecca LaFrance was happy to slip a pair of those gloves on when she and her mother arrived at Gardner’s sale. Both women were already wearing masks when they got out of their car.

For LaFrance, the yard sale circuit is just part of summer in Maine. She and her mother typically go through yard sale listings and chart out their route based on which sales start earliest. This year, they’ve seen scattered sales, but nowhere near the number they’re used to.

“We’re super excited for them. It feels more like the normal goings on of spring into summer,” said LaFrance, who lives in East Waterboro.

LaFrance said she feels “perfectly safe” shopping at yard sales this year because people are taking precautions to be safe.

“With the mask and social distancing I’m feeling fine, especially because we’re outside in the fresh air,” she said.

MJ Taylor organizes her garage filled with items for sale Thursday in Brunswick. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In Brunswick, MJ Taylor has been holding one of her annual garage sales, but things look a lot different this year.

Currently out of work because of the coronavirus, she has spent the past couple of months cleaning out every closet in her house. Before setting up her sale, she researched what she would need to do to make it safe for herself and shoppers.

“I thought this year I’d have to be more creative,” she said.

Taylor decided she would advertise her “masked garage sale” on Craigslist and make clear all shoppers would have to follow her rules: wear a mask, come only with someone else from your household, and bring sanitizing wipes to clean anything you buy.

So far, Taylor’s precautions have been well-received by the people who have come to shop.

“They are obeying my little rules. They tell me that’s the way to do it,” she said.

“I think there’s a warmness this time around that I haven’t felt before,” she said. “People are asking about how you’re doing and wishing each other well. It’s really, really nice.”

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