Our lowdown on consignment sales

I’m a sucker for the big consignment sales. You have to admit the premise is alluring: the photos on Facebook of a gym packed to the brim with kid stuff, all of it deeply discounted, curated, already tried-and-tested (the stuff that breaks would never make it to a second life), and—what might be the best part—fully assembled! What’s not to love? But the reality of these sales might sometimes send you running back to Buy Buy Baby--without a coupon! At their worst they are crowded with long lines to get in and check out, with all the best finds long gone after 5 minutes, and hard to shop in narrow aisles with nowhere to put your oversize treasures while you browse. 

Many of these sales have the same things in common. They are free to attend, you’ll line up outside, and when it’s your turn to enter you’ll be handed an IKEA bag to use as you shop. Often no outside large bags or strollers are allowed, but I’ve never seen an issue with purses or diaper bags. The aisles can be crowded, so I typically wear my baby when I go to help me zip around faster. There is tons of stuff on sale from strollers to small furniture items to bedding to clothes, books, and gently used toys. Everything is clean, wrapped in plastic when possible, and well-labeled. The prices seemed to be about 30-50% of full retail price. Most items are used but there are some new-in-box finds. There is no haggling, so if you aren’t prepared to pay the price tag, you might want to leave it for someone else. Most of the people working the event are volunteer moms, and they are friendly and helpful. Items are organized in rows by type, and boys’ and girls’ items are mixed together, except for clothes and shoes, which are separated by gender for easy perusal. I’ve never participated as a seller, but from what I’ve read, part of the money from each sale goes to the original consignor, so you’re directly helping other local moms in addition to getting a bargain. All sales are final, so arrive knowing the exact name of the thing you are looking for, or you might end up with a car seat base that doesn’t fit your car seat. 

My favorite items are the larger toys and outdoor equipment and shoes, which can be as cheap as $2 or $3. I like to browse the toys with my baby in tow because I can see what she gravitates toward. It’s great to try before you buy, something you can’t do in the retail stores where almost everything comes tied up in a box. These sales are also great places to find those unusual, more boutique items that you might not come across in a traditional toy store. From my journeys this month I came back with a gym climbing mat, a travel high chair, two great Melissa & Doug toys that were on my Amazon wish list, a Sit N Spin, and countless shoes and small toys. 

Though these consignment sales seem to follow the same pattern, there are some variations in experience. I’ve been to three different local sales in the past month, and the following is my breakdown of what to love and of what to be wary.

This one takes place in the early Spring and Fall at the gymnasium at SUNY Purchase. It’s a bit tricky to find, and parking close by can be difficult, but once you’re in, it’s smooth sailing. I registered for the new moms’ presale event, and I got there right when it opened at 6pm. There was almost no line to get in, and the crowds were reasonable. They had a corralled off area for anything large you picked out, so you don’t have to drag a crib around the gym with you while you shop for other items. The line to check out wasn’t too bad, and checkout was fast and easy, cash or credit was the same price. This is my favorite of the three sales. I’ve been to it twice, and had a great experience both times. There are always great finds and the setup is such that it’s fun to shop.  The only tricky thing about this location is that it’s a long walk to get from the front door of the sale to the car, so if you plan on buying something large, bring backup to help you bring it out of the building and through the parking lot. On the last day of the sale, many items are 50% off.

This sale happens every Spring at the Tuckahoe Community Center. I’ve been to it twice, and both times was disappointed with the small space. The first time, we waited an hour to get in, and once in it was very hard to walk around due to the amount of items packed into the rooms. The space they choose is too small for the inventory, so you’ll find yourself weaving around empty strollers, stepping over piles of shoes, and crammed into tiny side rooms with toys piled up in heaps. This would be a great sale if the space were larger, as the selection is good, but both times I went, I had such a hard time just getting around that I could barely browse. There weren’t enough IKEA bags for the amount of people they want to let in, so we waited an extra 10 minutes at the front of the line just for people to finish shopping so their IKEA bags could be reused. Despite the logistical snafus, the staff are friendly and enthusiastic. There is nowhere to put your oversize items while you shop, so I recommend going with someone to help carry anything you might find. I was alone with baby and saw a great gymnastics climber, but I had to carry it around with me as I shopped. It could barely fit through the tiny doorways into the side rooms that held toys and puzzles, and there wasn’t much space to put it down without it being in the way, so I ended up not being able to look around as much as I wanted to. The checkout process was fast, but they charged a fee to use a credit card, so bring cash for the best bottom line. Parking can be a pain for this sale. If you’re not lucky enough to get a spot in the small lot, you have to pay the meter on the street or at one of the town municipal lots. It’s not expensive to park, but it’s a bit of a hassle. This sale also has no half off day, so the sooner you can get there, the better selection you’ll get.

This event happens twice a year in the Spring and the Fall. I attended the Spring sale just over the border in Greenwich, Connecticut. This one had the worst hours in my opinion as I live in Lower Westchester. The public sale starts on a Friday from 5pm to 9pm, but driving to CT during the Friday rush didn’t seem like a good idea, so I attended the late night Diaper Drive which was from 7pm to 10pm on Thursday (baby’s bedtime!). Though admission is normally free, this night was a fundraiser so each family attending had to enter with a donation pack of diapers or wipes, or pay a $10 fee. I didn’t mind donating to those in need so I came, wipes in hand, and lined up outside the gym. Both the line to get in and the line to check out were very long, and this was the most crowded sale I attended. There were so many people that it was hard to see what was available on the tables. In addition, they warned that no strollers were allowed, but several people inside had them, which made it hard to get through the aisles. For what I was looking for, this sale had the best clothing selection. There was also a good selection of strollers, car seats, high chairs, cribs, bouncers, jumperoos, baby mats, and other essentials for infants. I found the toy section hard to navigate, but that may have just been the amount of people trying to look at the same things. The line to check out was agonizingly long. I waited for about 20 minutes and was probably still 10 to 15 minutes away from paying when on of the staff members pulled me out of the line and let me skip to the front. I was wearing my 16-month old who was overheated and overtired, and letting me know in no uncertain terms, and I was beyond grateful to be able to get her back out into the fresh air. It was so nice of them—it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask for special treatment, but they must have seen me and taken pity. If you go to this sale, bring a small group of people and have one or two of them get in line while the others shop so that you don’t double your time there. This sale had the same price for cash or credit, and like the Be Green Sale, this one also had a 50% off final day. 

Overall, these sales are fun, and worth it if you need specific baby items and don’t care if they are used. You’ll have the best experience if you come with people to help carry things and get a spot in the checkout line, without the heavy diaper bag, and without a stroller, and cash or credit card in hand can help speed things along. If you come with a small list of two or three things, you can make a beeline for those tables first, then spend more time browsing for anything else that pops out at you. 
Consignment sales are a great way to see what other parents are buying (and selling), and an opportunity to learn about a great toy or item that you might have passed by at Babies R Us. 

Though the final days of the sales are sometimes 50% off, this could only mean $10-$30 of actual savings with the gamble that the inventory won’t be what you’re looking for. My advice is to get in as a consignor, volunteer, or register as a new mom, as you’ll get access to the best hours and selection for the sales. Though you might not save as much as if you waited for the last day, you’ll get some great finds that wouldn’t have stuck around till the end.

But my most important advice is to go for the fun of shopping. Chatting with a friend while you wait in line, browsing with an open mind, and remembering that this stuff is all used, so don’t expect perfection. Also remember that consignors only make a percentage of the sale, so not everything can be priced $2 or no one will make enough money to have the sale again. 

I hope you found this helpful! I was only there at specific times so my experience might not be the typical one. If you’ve attended one of these sales, I would love to hear your experience. Happy shopping!