Fred Dentinger and Shawn Ells wait for customers for their garage sale. (Alan Tai)
Fred Dentinger and Shawn Ells wait for customers for their garage sale.

Alan Tai

Stories behind the Cupertino Garage Sale

Examining the items that Cupertino residents are parting ways with

October 3, 2022

Jack Carter

Jack Carter stands behind his locally sourced honey stand. Photo by Alyssa Yang

Longtime Cupertino resident Jack Carter participated in the Annual Citywide Garage Sale, running a stand selling locally sourced honey. Carter has been beekeeping for over three decades and sells honey from his bees he keeps in his yard and around the neighborhood. Carter’s stand, which is out everyday, saw increased traffic during the garage sale.

“I’ve been putting honey in my coffee since I was a teenager [in] the 1960s,” Carter said. “I used to buy 40-pound containers of honey. And then one day, my wife saw an ad for a beekeeping class at Happy Hollow, and the teacher [was] so manipulative. [They talked me] into having one hive, then two hives, and now, [in] a strong year, I get up to 30 hives.”

With the number of hives that he keeps, Carter has to buy many pieces of equipment such as nucleus boxes that house bees. He acknowledges the amount of work and resources that goes into beekeeping, which he says isn’t “raking in the dough” as people around him might think.

“I don’t charge [for labor],” Carter said. “It took me 13 years to break even, so [for] people that are trying to make money with honey, it has to be something that you want to work on. But it’s cheaper than a yacht and it’s cheaper than a mistress, so as a hobby, it’s pretty good.”

Despite challenges imposed by drought and increased costs for equipment, Carter has kept his prices the same for the past 13 years. He describes beekeeping as being “just for fun,” as he leaves the stand out and trusts that people will pay for the honey they take. Carter views this practice as being good for the community, even as the community around him has changed from the agricultural Cupertino he grew up in. He feels a sense of nostalgia for this past environment that may have led him to consider beekeeping.

“I grew up here when it was all orchards,” Carter said. “Maybe I wouldn’t be interested in [beekeeping without this experience]. At Stelling, at [a] dead end, you had a goat farm and a flower farm. I’m here, but I’m not home.”

Farhad and Nick Soliman

Farhad and Nick Soliman stand in front of a rack of clothes and other items they plan to sell. Photo by Alyssa Yang

Cupertino resident Farhad and his son Nick Soliman hosted a garage sale to sell off unneeded furnishings after their recent home remodel that finished three months ago. Farhad sold paintings, frames, chairs and lamps that no longer matched the space in his home.

Farhad also sold various sporting goods, such as tennis and baseball gear and his bike. He bought his bike two years ago, but rarely rode it and decided he would be better off selling it.

“My wife said, let’s buy a bike each and we’ll go [biking], right?” Farhad said. “[We] never did.”

This was Farhad’s first time participating in a garage sale in the last few years, and he appreciated how the citywide event brought increased traffic to his home, allowing him to sell his bike for a “substantial amount.”

“It’s been non-stop traffic,” Farhad said. “We started business at 9 o’clock. If I did it on a regular weekend, we’d probably get about five people stopping by.”

Fred Dentinger and Shawn Ells

Fred Dentinger and Shawn Ells sit behind their table of safety products. Photo by Alan Tai

Unlike most local sellers, Fred Dentinger and Shawn Ells see the Cupertino garage sale as a way to clear out items from their family business, which sells safety equipment. Saturday, Sept. 17 marked around 15 years since Dentinger’s first garage sale in Cupertino, but the items he sells haven’t changed. Although he occasionally sells home items, Dentinger has almost always sold vinyl gloves, safety vests and other products from his family’s warehouse. Although his primary goal is to clear out excess product, he also hopes those items can help the community. 

“Every biker who rides a bike at night, and anybody who walks at night, should wear a safety vest with reflective gear,” Dentinger said. “It would save some lives in our area.” 

Dentinger’s family moved to Cupertino in September of 1969, 53 years ago, and were “very happy to locate here.” Dentinger only started running garage sales for the community a few decades later, but he’s just as appreciative of garage sales being a citywide event.

Dentinger noticed that his garage sale had been unusually busy this Saturday. Ells agreed, saying that while he has helped Dentinger with the garage sale over the years, this time was the busiest out of all of them. 

“We’ve had quite a few Los Altos folks come by,” Ells said. “Sunnyvale [too]. People that have family members from out of town come by — Michigan, Ohio — they just come by and see. So I think just people are kind of looking for a deal. Times are tough, finances are tough, so people are looking around.”

Bryan Lancer

Bryan Lancer holds a piece of what he identified as 19th-century dental equipment. Photo by Alan Tai

By early Saturday afternoon, Bryan Lancer’s driveway had “mishmash” here and there: a framed authentic lemon crate label, old electronics and other assorted items. According to Lancer, his garage sale had been fairly successful throughout the morning, and when left with the items no one had wanted to buy, he was ready to close up for the day. 

Having lived in Cupertino for 20 years, Lancer recalls participating in garage sales casually before the pandemic, and is appreciative of the city making them a citywide event.

“It helps build community,” Lancer said. “I think the city supports it well in terms of guiding people, [but] they’re not probably advertising as much as they should. I have a lot of neighbors who found out about it today.” 

Over the last few years, Lancer noticed several items accumulating in his house. Some were items he bought and never ended up using, and some were vintage items from his dad’s estate. Ultimately, Lancer decided that the garage sale was an opportunity to “part with some of it.” To him, everything he was selling was “cool stuff,” even though one of what he considered the most interesting things was actually something no one had wanted to buy: nineteenth-century dental equipment. According to Lancer, the great-grandfather of some antique dealers had a dental office in the eighteen hundreds, and he ended up buying the equipment.

“Now you have powered drills, and you know, automatic vacuums and stuff,” Lancer said. “To suck the juices out of your mouth [back then], they had to crank with a foot. And the dentist would sit there cranking with a foot and sucking all the goo out of your mouth.”

Lancer thinks the engineering is “unbelievable.” Although the equipment didn’t sell, he shared he still has tentative plans for it. 

“I’m thinking I’m gonna turn this into a lamp, actually,” Lancer said. “It’d be kind of neat.”

Cindy Chang and Tony Yang

Cindy Chang and Tony Yang sit in front of their garage. Photo by Alan Tai

Tony Yang and Cindy Chang participated in the garage sale for the first time this year. By midmorning, plastic food containers, toys, books, stuffed animals, clothes and all sorts of household items were spread out across their driveway and lawn. According to Yang, the couple saw the garage sale as a chance to finally part with everything they’d collected during the pandemic. 

“I have a garage and I had not used it because of COVID, so we just had a lot of things accumulated over those last two years,” Yang said. “And I don’t know if they did garage sales the last couple years, but I knew that they were doing it this year. I found out through [my wife], and so I was like, ‘Oh, this is a good opportunity.’”

Chang noted that the pandemic was also only partly behind the accumulation of  items they wanted to sell. She added that as their kids grew older, it was natural to have to slowly clean things out.

“You buy a lot of stuff over the years,” Chang said. “My youngest is three right now, and my oldest is nine, almost 10, so we’re slowly in the process. We still have a lot [of items] inside [too]. This is just a portion of it.”

Their garage sale took place in Chang’s childhood home. Chang, a Regnart Elementary School, Kennedy Middle School and MVHS alum, remembers watching her mother hold garage sales and leave free items on the curbside. She recalls that the next morning, everything would be gone. Chang and Yang had donated to Goodwill before, but this year, they decided to take advantage of their location and hold a garage sale. Chang said they kept their prices low and had already seen many sales, though the items that sold the most poorly were the furniture left behind by her mother.

“[My parents] moved to Taiwan and we moved in to save on rent, so we’re trying to sell some of their stuff,” Chang said. “My mom’s like, ‘I bought [the chairs you’re selling] for 60 bucks!’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know if anyone wants them anymore.”

Both Chang and Yang were satisfied with how their garage sale was going. Chang credited the citywide garage sale with bringing constant traffic by their home, estimating that at least 100 people had already stopped by.

“This is [also] a really good location for a garage sale,” Chang said. “I feel like we should have a lemonade stand next time, so we can kind of have a double business.”

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