By Ryan Cornell
For many people in Shenandoah County, Christmas comes around the beginning of August.
Held Saturday, Aug. 10, the ninth annual Route 11 Yard Crawl will feature vendors and residents hawking their merchandise along 43 miles of highway from New Market at the southern tip of Shenandoah County north to Stephens City in Frederick County.
The massive yard sale has become such a hit that Jenna French said shoppers come all the way from Florida and Canada.
"It's grown over the years to become a pretty big tourist attraction," French said. "They come that particular weekend to check out the yard crawl, some of them the first time they've been off 81, and they come back. It shows what Shenandoah County has to offer."
French, executive director of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, credited its popularity to the media, particularly shows such as "American Pickers" and "Endless Yard Sale."
"People are always looking to find a bargain," she said. "They like to tell the stories of finding a steal, rummaging for that hidden treasure."
She said one man sold a complete life-sized set of armor that a Medieval knight would wear. One woman bought a pitching machine so her children could practice their Bryce Harper swing. And of course, who could forget the Richmond woman who bought two alabaster lamps for $25 at the 2011 Yard Crawl and flipped them for a thousand dollars?
For others, Santa Claus comes in the form of fundraisers benefiting local nonprofits. Donna Smith, owner of the Edinburg Renaissance Bed and Breakfast, sets up a booth across from her inn every year for the yard crawl. All of the proceeds from the donated items she sells go toward the Shenandoah County Library system.
"I began four years ago by putting a card table in front of my bed and breakfast," Smith said. "I didn't want to price the items, so I put a jar that said 'All donations to proceed the Shenandoah County Library system.'"
She said she made $50 that first year. The next year, she raised about $1,000. In 2011, her booth raised $2,130 and $2,938 in 2012, according to David Robinson, director of adult services at the Shenandoah County Library.
Robinson said the proceeds benefit the library's programs for its teenage patrons. Some of these programs include the summer reading program -- the funds cover general admission tickets to the Shenandoah County fair, which is given as an incentive to completing the program -- as well as video game tournaments, craft projects and the new teen space being designed at the library.
Smith, who is a retired high school teacher and "holds teenagers very close to [her] heart," said she received an antique wheelchair last year, "one that you would picture FDR sitting in."
"We weren't too sure how to sell that one," said Smith.
She consulted with an auction company in town and had a price put on it. "Soon enough, a lady in a minivan pulled right up and literally ran up to it," she said. "She said she had one in the sunroom of her house and was looking for a second one."
The yard crawl officially begins at 7 a.m. on Aug. 10, but many of the shoppers spend their Thursday and Friday before the event scouting the stretch. French said some shoppers start at one end and move toward the middle, where they stay the night and continue their search on Sunday. She said others spend Friday night searching out the area's hotspots so they can use Interstate 81 to bypass other portions that don't interest them.
Those hotspots tend to be at the flea markets in Edinburg and New Market, she said, as well as the spaces in Fishers Hill.
"Everybody has their own strategies that work for them," French said.
Because of the increased traffic, these hotspots pose a danger to pedestrians. Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew encouraged drivers to take an alternate route -- I-81 or one of the secondary roads that parallel Route 11 -- if possible that weekend. He warned drivers to keep their speed slow and to be vigilant and defensive in their driving habits.
"55 [the speed limit for most of the highway] is far too fast," he said. "There's going to be lots of people parked on the shoulder and people crossing the road."
He said pedestrians should also be careful and make sure the roads are clear before they cross. He said the lines of parked cars can obstruct the view of motorists.
"You're going to be crossing roadways in areas that were never designed for pedestrians," he said.
In recent years the rescue squad hasn't had reports of any accidents related to the yard crawl, Yew said, but they have had issues with people parking illegally.
Warning that congestion can be severe along the highway from that Saturday morning to mid-afternoon, he said drivers will move a lot slower than they normally expect.
"Literally at a crawl," he said.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org