Like countless other renters scraping by in San Francisco’s sky high rental market - Josh and Joy Bogdan were over it. The tech boom which has notoriously displaced many across the city actually worked to the benefit of the couple who work in advertising. Yet after transplanting from the East Coast to San Francisco five years ago, they were ready to seek out less greener pastures in a cheaper city.
“But with that comes really serious rent prices,” said Joy Bogdan, a graphic designer said of San Francisco’s exploding economy. “I bought a Diet Coke for $2 the other day.”
Josh Bogdan finally landed a job in Portland, Oregon — so on a recent day he and his wife packed up their one-bedroom Mission District apartment — dreaming of the day when they might be able to buy a house or at least have a dishwasher.
They followed the standard pre-moving rituals; the cleaning of appliances, the re-installation of smoke alarm batteries and the purging of accumulated stuff. But when it came to holding the obligatory yard sale, the Bogdan’s broke with tradition.
“We knew we were going to get rid of a bunch of stuff and we thought we could do a sidewalk sale and maybe make a $100,” said Josh Bogdan, the day before the drive to Portland. “Or we thought we could have some fun with it.”
A couple Saturdays ago, the Bogdans hauled their unwanted stuff down to the corner of 15th Street and Church — filling a table with old shirts, a microwave, a potted plant, dishes and a space heater. They tacked up a sign announcing “free stuff.”
Rather than take in a nominal amount of money for their castoffs, the Bogdans had an idea to leverage their old things for priceless, unique treasures that might serve as a fond reminder of their beloved city.
“We could kind of give our things away,” said Joy Bogdan, “in exchange for any stories, opinions, jokes, rants, raves.”
On the day of the yard sale, the Bogdans attached post-it notes to their items in lieu of price tags. The notes elicited customers to “tell us a story about your father,” share a thought “about these real estate prices,” a “story about San Francisco,” or do “an impression of a hotdog.” The shoppers had to agree to stand in front of a video camera and share these brief oratories in exchange for an item.
“There were so many different people,” said Bogdan, who operated the camera, “and so many were just willing to talk to me.” The neighbors popped by. Strangers stopped in. At one point a crowd gathered to watch the strange proceedings.
A woman stepped in front of the camera and shared a story about the first time she smoked a cigarette and was immediately caught in the act by an adult. She earned the microwave.
The potted plant fetched a story about a man’s neighbor who had a paraplegic dog. For the sum of a button-down shirt, a man related a story about a chance meeting with Barack Obama before he became president. A teenager described his struggle coping with his confused sexuality — a woman claimed a saucer in exchange for a story about her mother who was arrested and then jumped bail.
“Fifty bucks in a city like this is neither here or there,” said Joy Bogdan, “but there’s so many interesting people.”
A woman grabbed a garishly-red robe in exchange for a story about how her parents had met on a train on their way to San Francisco during World War II. An orange scarf generated a story about a woman’s motorcycle ride to the Lexington Club, San Francisco’s sole lesbian bar which closed recently.
The Bogdans unloaded their entire stash in less than an hour-and-a-half — not a single cent changed hands before they folded up their table, took down their sign, and headed home with their newfound riches which they planned to post in an online blog.
Instead of a wad of cash, the Bogdans had met neighbors and strangers — extracted the threads hidden beneath the fabric of one of San Francisco’s most colorful neighborhoods — ground zero for the cultural upheaval unleashed by the explosion of tech-dom. As the couple packed-up their remaining items — the ones that made the cut for their next journey, there was a sense the yard sale had yielded much more than they had set out.
“The experience of making all these videos talking to all these neighbors,” said Josh Bogdan, “was way more valuable than some change I would probably waste at the bar later.”