Secret Shopping Days at the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale

White elephant sale
A Small Portion of the Art Department

The Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale is the mother of all rummage sales in the Bay Area. Now in its 56th year, the sale is a major fundraiser for the Oakland Museum of California and a major vintage shopping destination.  While I first attended the White Elephant Sale about 20 years ago, I only learned about the secret donor shopping days several years ago.  Admittedly it’s not that big a secret since, if you read their website carefully the information is there, but it’s buried several pages in and not broadcast on the home page.  Once you know about donor shopping days you’ll always want to shop during them.  I save items all year to donate to the White Elephant Sale just so that I can shop during donor shopping days.

First, Some General Info About the White Elephant Sale

The sale is a seasonal event comprising the White Elephant Sale itself, usually held the first weekend of March; a Preview Sale which is held about one month prior to the White Elephant sale; and donor shopping days which take place between the two big  sales.

White elephant sale
Diagram of the White Elephant Sale

The sale is organized by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and their volunteers are organized and often very knowledgable.  This has its advantages and disadvantages for shoppers.

White elephant saleOn the plus side, the sale is very well-organized, making it easy to find things.  The huge warehouse where the sales are held is divided into departments just like a department store, and within each department items are further organized.  For instance, the book department is as organized as a good used book store with books separated by subject and alphabetized. There are separate women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing departments and clothing is well organized within each by type and size, with special sections for designer and vintage clothing.

White elephant saleThe downside is that many of the volunteers are knowledgable about antiques, art, jewelry, and other collectibles so it’s rare to find a treasure for a very low price, although it does occasionally happen.   However there are always great deals on kitchen items, non-vintage clothing, books, sewing supplies, linens, sporting goods, and other useful things;  and on occasion I’ve found bargains on vintage jewelry and clothing.

The Preview Sale
White elephant sale
My Crazy Lamp

The Preview Sale is the first opportunity to purchase items.  There is more high-end art, jewelry, furniture and tchotchkes available at this sale than at the later White Elephant Sale since all of the best items gathered during the previous year are available at the preview, and often snapped up at this sale.  The Preview is the only sale for which there is an admission charge ($20 at the door in 2015, $15 in advance).   At the preview sale a few years ago I got an amazing, over-the-top, vintage Italian lamp with crystal shades in the shape of flower buds; at the same sale I also found a Japanese mandoline (slicer) for $1, the type that normally sell for $50 at Sur la Table.

The White Elephant Sale
White elephant sale
View of the warehouse

Usually held during the first weekend of March, the White Elephant Sale takes place over two days and has free admission.   In 2016 the White Elephant Sale will take place on March 5th and 6th.

Donor Shopping Days

During the weeks between the Preview Sale and the White Elephant Sale the warehouse is open several days a week for a few hours a day to accept donations and allow donors to shop.  This is my favorite time to shop as the crowds are smaller than during the Preview Sale and the White Elephant Sale.

There are several ways to donate to the White Elephant Sale that will allow you to shop during donor shopping days:

1)  All year long the Oakland Museum will pick up donations at your house by appointment.  When you donate this way you will receive 2 stickers allowing you entry on two donor shopping days (or one entry for you and a guest).

White Elephant sale
The loading dock where donations are taken

2) The warehouse is open for drop-off donations in the weeks prior to the Preview Sale.  When you make a drop-off donation during this period of time you receive 2 stickers allowing you entry during donor shopping days.

3) During donor shopping days you can make a donation at the warehouse, receive 2 stickers, and either shop that day or use them during other donor shopping days.

As of this writing in 2016, donor shopping is from 10:00-1:00  Tuesdays through Saturdays, February 3rd through February 24th.  Please note that the White Elephant Sale is quite strict about items that they won’t accept as donations so check their website for the list of what they won’t accept.

White elephant sale
Jewelry Department

Donor shopping days provide an incentive for me to do early spring cleaning.  I usually schedule a pick-up some time during the year once I have a nice size pile of items to donate; then, during donor shopping days, I’m inspired to purge of some part of my house (I think this year it will be my book shelves) in order to make an additional donation and get a second set of stickers.  I know it may sound crazy to purge and immediately go shopping, but I love arriving at the warehouse with a trunk-load of donations and leaving with a couple of small treasures.

Important Note:  During donor shopping days a 10% premium is added at the cashier to all prices.

IMG_1544Warning:  Saturday is a challenging day to shop during donor shopping days since many of the streets near the warehouse have no parking on Saturdays for street cleaning.  So, if you need to donate and shop on Saturday, show up early to grab one of the limited number of parking spaces or you’ll have to park quite a distance away.

White elephant sale
Exterior View of the Warehouse

The White Elephant Sale, Preview Sale, and donor shopping days take place in the Oakland Museum’s massive 2-acre warehouse on the edge of the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.  There is limited parking in the surrounding neighborhood and if you want this parking you should show up a few hours in advance of the big sales, a little before 10:00 am on donor shopping days.  However shuttles run from the nearby Fruitvale BART station during the Preview Sale and White Elephant Sale (but not on donor shopping days).  Check the White Elephant Sale website for directions, the list of items that they don’t accept, dates, times, etc.

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