By Jan Mercker
For longtime volunteers at the annual Inova Loudoun Ladies Board Rummage Sale, the past 18 months have been marked by loss. The deaths of several core organizers since the phenomenally successful 2019 event hit the tight-knit team hard. And, with the 2020 sale canceled, volunteers have missed the special sense of camaraderie and community service that pre-sale prep week creates.
The good news is that rummage is back this year—a month earlier than usual. Organizers also are changing venues, returning to the Loudoun County Fairgrounds where the event was held for 40 years before moving to Morven Park in 2003.
“I’m excited about seeing everyone together. I’m excited about all the ladies feeling like things are okay again,” said Rummage Sale Chairwoman Joylyn Hannahs.“This was a really hard year for older people, and our [volunteer] group includes a large number of older folks in Loudoun. I’m really excited to see them come back and find that energy.”
This year’s 82nd annual Ladies Board Rummage Sale takes place Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday Sept. 19 after a one-year hiatus and a smaller scale than the mammoth event it had become in recent years.
“We were thinking we needed to take things down a notch this year with COVID. We decided to go back to our roots and went back to the fairgrounds, and they were so excited to have us back,” Hannahs said.
The volunteer-run sale, which raises money for nursing scholarships and other critical needs at Inova Loudoun Hospital, had experienced explosive growth in recent years, culminating in a record-shattering $343,000 in sales in 2019. For 16 years, the sale took over the equestrian ring and several outbuildings at Morven Park every year in mid-October, with a full week of prep work from volunteers sorting, pricing, and displaying clothing, housewares, antiques, books, and other treasures.
But after canceling last year’s event because of the pandemic, Hannahs and her executive team decided to ramp back up slowly.
“Our motto is quality over quantity,” she said. “We want to bring it back to the roots of the rummage sale, make a little money and help the community.”
The new location and earlier date allows much of the shopping to take place outside, helping volunteers and shoppers feel safe as uncertainty around the Delta variant persists and with flu season on the horizon.
“We had to make some transitions to make people a little more comfortable,” Hannahs said.
She added that volunteers, many of whom are seniors and retirees, have been chomping at the bit to get back to the sale.
“They were pushing to get this back,” Hannahs said. “They’re so active and the year they weren’t able to be active. It was so difficult for them as it was for all of us.”
Hannahs said that the hiatus has helped make one of the sale’s most popular departments—The Look upscale women’s clothing and accessories—better than ever. Department chair Alexia Orr hand-picks items for the trendy secondhand boutique within the rummage sale throughout the year. Now, Orr has had two years to accumulate designer and high-end finds, creating a budget fashionista’s dream.
“She has been prepping for a year and a half. She has some of the best stuff going this year,” Hannahs said.
Organizers are also changing up the sale’s early bird shopping program. Instead of buying tickets to shop early on the first day, this year serious shoppers can pay a premium for three hours of VIP shopping the Friday before the sale.
Hannahs, a GenX Loudoun native who runs a local photography business, has worked to bring in a new generation of volunteers, including the children and grandchildren of longtime volunteers and new Loudoun residents. But a core group of seniors remains at the heart of the event.
“I’m so inspired by what these ladies do,” Hannahs said.
But with the loss of several leaders during the pandemic, the torch is being passed in several departments.
The volunteer community was shaken by the 2020 death of Susan Mills, a former Ladies Board president, longtime Loudoun educator and administrator and head of the sale’s famed books department, where volunteers sell tens of thousands of donated volumes each year. The board also lost its beloved toy department co-chairs Jenny Tate and Ginny Warren in February and March of this year respectively.
The sale is an important fundraiser for the hospital, and Hannahs said that thanks to good stewardship and a string of super-successful years, the board was able to meet its nursing scholarship and other commitments in 2020, despite the skipped year.
But the sale is an annual ritual not just for volunteers, but also for regular shoppers. It’s built up a cult following of sorts among collectors, bargain hunters and curious tourists. Sale weekend has become nothing short of a Loudoun institution—and it’s clearly been missed. The Ladies Board’s Twice Is Nice thrift shop in Leesburg has remained open during most of the pandemic, and Hannahs said inquiries about the rummage sale are a daily occurrence.
“We have people coming into the thrift shop saying they’ve been waiting the whole year,” Hannahs said. “We are ready for people to come back and see us and make sure they’re getting their rummage on.”
The 82nd annual Ladies Board Rummage Sale takes place Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday, Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds. Early VIP shopping is Friday, Sept. 17 from noon to 3 p.m. Tickets for the VIP shopping event are $50 per person. Regular admission to the rummage sale is free. For tickets and information, go to ladiesboard.org.