Though it comes but once a year and the prices are not always bargains, no shopping experience beats the White Elephant Sale for organization and sheer volume of stuff. Dinette sets from the '50s, crates of vintage vinyl, camping gear, Mixmaster blenders, camera equipment, tons of clothes -- the list goes on and on. In a block-long warehouse, a small army of more than nine hundred seasoned volunteers works for months sifting and categorizing the donated items within various departments. All electronics are tested; books are sorted by subject, linens by color; every lid is tied to its pot with string. The sale is heading into its 44th year, and like any old-timer, it has its well-worn routines that can befuddle a newbie. The process of making a purchase involves a convoluted series of receipts and sign-offs, but there are lots of friendly volunteers to help out. The official sale is the first weekend in March, but collectors and dealers flock to the Preview Sale in February: Tickets must be purchased and crowds line up for blocks. A great time to shop is during the intervening weeks, when you can arrive with some items to donate and gain admittance when the place is relatively quiet. The real bargains happen during the frantic final hours of the sale, when all the prices drop 50 percent. Bring lots of cash in small bills, and water and Power Bars so you don't get feeble. In this case, shopping is an extreme sport.
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