Cars and consumers crowd the NY Route 90 during the 50-Mile Garage Sale Saturday north of Summerhill NY.

Cars and consumers crowd NY Route 90 during the 50-Mile Garage Sale Saturday north of Summerhill NY. The sale starts in Homer.

HOMER NY – The central New York village of Homer is one of those sleepy little places in rural America often described in books about the countryside. There are a few thousand more dairy cows at pasture in its green, open spaces than there are residents in its homes. For one weekend every year during the past three decades, though, Homer wakes up and sells itself.

The garage sale route, in purple.

The garage sale route, in purple.


Last Saturday and Sunday (July 25-26, 2009) the village once again was the starting point of the annual Finger Lakes’ 50-Mile Garage Sale.

It’s not a single sale, of course. Instead, house and business owners along NY Route 90 – between Homer, 3 miles west of Cortland, north to Montezuma NY, at the top of Cayuga Lake – band together to hold hundreds of lawn, yard, porch and garage sales. The object, besides getting rid of unwanted junk, is to attract outside tourists. They come in droves.

The selection of merchandise is broad, varied, and eclectic. From carburetors to hand-sewn toaster covers, from kids’ clothes to kids (meaning, baby goats), from music (much of it country) to antique muskets, people sell ’em at interesting prices. Some are bona fide bargains. Others, not so much.

The old school desk sold for $25; the lobster trap, for $40.

The old school desk sold for $25; the lobster trap, for $40. Other stuff was less of a deal.

Badman’s Bushel Basket, a roadside stand in Summerhill NY – the birthplace of U.S. President Millard Fillmore – offers personally grown vegetables picked fresh from a two-acre garden behind the owner’s home. A pint of heirloom tomatoes is marked at $1.59. Three cucumbers for dollar. Onions, five for a buck.

Navigating the sales can be a challenge. The narrow, two-lane highway is crowded with both slow-moving people, walking to and fro, and cars piloted by motorists in a hurry; not an ideal combination.

Moreover, a 10-mile stretch of Route 90 between the villages of Locke and Genoa NY, north of Homer, is an unwary driver’s nightmare. The road is at first heavily wooded on both sides, and climbs a steep hill north out of Locke in twists and turns that rival European highways.

At the crest of the hill, and on the plateau beyond, lie hundreds of acres of cultivated farmland. The prime crop is corn, most of which will be ground into winter silage for animals. The damp, musky smell of manure, freshly distributed on the fields as nature’s fertilizer, hangs heavy in the air.

Travelers along Route 90 usually will see more trucks and tractors than cars.

Travelers along the route often see more trucks and tractors than cars.

The only place within miles of Genoa to buy groceries is Smith’s, a market that bills itself as the “oldest IGA in the universe.” IGA is a franchise whose acronym stands for Independent Grocers Alliance. It was a buying cooperative that began in the 1920s. Today, 40 Smith’s can fit into the new Giant Food Market at Upland Square, with room to spare.

Cayuga Lake wine country seems to unofficially begin in Kings Ferry NY, at about the mid-point of the trip. The village is on the lake’s east side, and it’s the first hamlet where grape arbors are visible in many back yards.

An array of duck decoys available fr purchase in Aurora NY.

An array of duck decoys available for purchase in Aurora NY.

Still farther north is Aurora NY, where the lake laps at the roadside and elaborate summer villas built by the wealthy appear to sprout from well-manicured lawns. The residents here are wine consumers, not creators. Aurora is the home of Wells College, named for benefactor, former resident and American Express founder Henry Wells. Its several sales involve fine art and are accompanied by appropriately fine prices.

While all often seems peaceful along the route, there are signs of political turmoil. As bargain hunters get closer to Montezuma, they more frequently see signs that shout “No Sovereign Nation! No Reservation!” They refer to a land claim lawsuit, made by Cayuga Indians and now working itself through the courts, that threatens to take private properties.

Back in Cortland, it looks a lot like the Lehigh Valley. Just as Lehigh University is playing host this week to the Philadelphia Eagles’ football training camps, the State University of New York at Cortland is preparing for its annual summer visitors, the New York Jets.

A sign of greeting for The Jets.

A sign of greeting for The Jets.

Although that professional team’s arrival is still a couple of weeks away, a banner hung Saturday over the downtown Cortland intersection of Main and Groton Streets, welcoming players, coaches, visitors and the media. In adjacent Cortlandville, where some practices will also be held, there are signs of greeting outside many businesses.

Editor’s Note: When The Post takes a road trip, its readers go too. “Travels With The Post” is a series that reports on places and activities beyond our usual coverage area, but most often within a drive of three hours or less.

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