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Published May 09 2010

Swift: Joining the ranks of boulevard shoppers in Fargo

I’m not a bargain shopper.

I do not possess the thrifty-shopping gene. Unlike some of my more frugal-minded friends, I have never found a designer ensemble at the secondhand store or a Tiffany lamp at a garage sale. I often marvel at those lucky saps on “Antiques Roadshow” who find cross-stitched clown art in the Dumpster and then learn it covers a Picasso.

And so I’ve always been curious about boulevard shoppers. I’ve watched them during Cleanup Week: trolling the neighborhoods with trailers of discarded treasures in tow. I’ve seen them snatch up broken chandeliers and boxes of 12-year-old TV Guides as if they just found Betsy Ross’ first thimble. I’ve heard of them turning old ladders into towel racks or old satellite dishes into stylish chips-and-salsa bowls.

None of this made sense to me. To be honest, I’ve been a boulevard snob. I’ve somehow figured myself to be above such things. What would I want with someone’s 30-year-old stationary bike when I was busy ignoring the 5-year-old treadmill in my own home? Did I really want electronics that sat outside in the rain? And why would I want stuff that wasn’t deemed fancy enough for a thrift store?

Then I met Clem Buzick and Ron Larson. The Harwood brother and sister are seasoned boulevard shoppers. They have found gems like working lawn mowers, valuable vintage bicycles and fully functional DVD players. Not only that, they’ve had a lot of fun while doing so.

I followed these curbside connoisseurs last week for a story. We had a blast. We giggled as they poked through old garden equipment and Ron plucked up the basin of a bird bath. I felt Clem’s excitement as she harvested a couple of green deck chairs sans cushions. I admired her self-control as she examined a perfectly good wooden ladder on the lawn: “I like it, but do I really need it?” she pondered aloud.

Then I saw The Chair. It sat on the boulevard amid rolled-up carpeting and a discarded washing machine. It sported sleek, midcentury modern lines and a couple of slender green cushions. The fabric was awful – the very same green, scratchy stuff had covered my Grandma Swift’s couch. But Clem assured me it would be easy to reupholster. And was it my imagination, or was that teak?

Clem readily jumped in as curbside enabler. “It’s a really cool chair,” she said. “If you decide you don’t like it, you can always put it on someone’s else’s boulevard.”

Before I knew it, we were cramming it into Ron’s pickup. My cheeks felt flushed from excitement. I had done it. I had joined the legion of boulevard pickers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for shopper’s remorse to kick in. What had I done? How would I explain this to my husband? Would I really take the time to reupholster it, or would it simply take up space in my garage for the next five years? Would it even fit in my Taurus for the ride home?

But I didn’t have the stomach to back out at that point. It actually did fit in the Taurus, after we shoehorned it into the trunk and Ron secured it with an elaborate network of bungee cords and straps. I drove home, in true Clampett style, with the chair sticking out of the trunk.

At home, I unloaded the chair and put it in the garage. When no longer surrounded by stained mattresses and broken TVs, it lost some of its luster. It didn’t look “Mad Men” chic so much as garbage-man chic.

Still, I’m going to keep it. Who knows? I might even reupholster it.

I saw some really cool fabric on that boulevard in north Fargo … .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com