Martha Stewart’s various outbuildings and guest houses and cellars and rafters in Bedford, New York, have been filling up for years, so in an apparent fit of spring enthusiasm (and a need for filmed content), she had everyone over this past weekend to buy her castoffs.
Tickets to attend the Martha Stewart Great American Tag Sale were hilariously expensive, particularly given that you were paying for the opportunity to spend money and that you were appearing in someone else’s television production. Tickets began at $250 a person for first dibs on Saturday morning and ratcheted down throughout the weekend. With this sort of investment made, by late Saturday, the mood was eager to the point of bloodthirsty. Afternoon-ticket holders — lengthy and unread waivers signed, drones filming overhead — bristled as Mercedes Sprinter van-loads of returning shoppers burdened with brimming totes and drop-leaf tables passed by. “It’s 2:07, let’s go,” said one woman with a 2 p.m. slot.
One interesting thing about Martha Stewart as a famous person (and there are a nearly endless number of interesting things about her) is that, because so much of her work uses the home as laboratory and film set, we have all always known exactly where her homes are. (Presumably the snipers would get you before you could even spy one of her Friesians.)
So the various greenhouses and whatnots were familiar to Martha-content enthusiasts as the vans quickly took us past the beautiful part of her property toward the far less handsome back end, where a near-silent feeding frenzy was underway.
Here, strewn about the lawn or clustered under wedding tents, were all the lamps, the rag rugs, the giant piles of garden furniture, a towering buffet of unpriced waterproof couch cushions (that all went immediately — outdoor furniture in the New York City suburbs is in a state of absolute crisis). A creepy little guest house was packed full of headboards and posters. Down a raised dirt road thick with Polarises and Kubotas going dustily back and forth one could find Halloween and Christmas decor — $2 per plastic bone — and waffle irons and children’s car seats. A dream and a nightmare! At stations across the sale, camera crews interviewed attendees about, I presume, the burdens of taste.
The prices here were sometimes eye-popping, which made for yet one more interesting thing about Martha Stewart. Would she unload this old poster for nothing, as she is very wealthy and this whole event was a business anyway? No, she would charge $1,000 for it.
But we weren’t just buying $40 concrete leaves. We were buying the experience of rummaging through Martha Stewart’s stuff. Which is why it was both strange and obvious that the host herself would emerge from a garage — in an incredible outfit of dangly earrings, shiny black overalls, and a short-sleeved salmon puffer — to talk merch for ages. She posed with fans; she chatted with professional thing-dealers; she surfaced her presence for whatever eventual ABC spectacular this can be edited into. But mostly she just seemed like she was effortlessly in charge of an immense operation. That is the main Martha mode, and what one finds so enduringly attractive about her.
The back side of Martha’s property, like much of rich Westchester, lacks enough cell service to successfully email customer receipts, so we were instructed to take photos of our digital receipts for proof of sale to exit. I could have stolen anything and I should have.
Instead, I bought:
• Three larger-than-life spooky cat Halloween lawn decorations; I can’t wait.
• One strange pin-striped beer cooler that is also sort of a fanny pack; very chic for summer.
• Two sets of Martha Stewart–branded tire-traction treads, for when your car gets stuck in the mud or sand, at half-off retail.
For this, a receipt for $85 arrived from Lifestyle Research Center, LLC. I felt good about it. Maybe Martha did too.
There’s a certain sadness that sets in once one has made the laps of a place one expects to find bargains. The second go-round by the unwanted lamps didn’t make them any more desirable. The rugs looked limp, the baskets weak and dusty. The next hour’s visitors were piling out of their vans, all fresh-faced and exuberant, while we were ready to make peace with our successes and failures.
On the van ride back, one woman asked the man with her: “Was it everything you dreamed?”
“Well,” he said. And eventually: “Yeah, we went out, we did something.”