A car boot sale is to Britain as a garage sale is to the United States. Car boot sales are characterized by private citizens coming together to buy and sell unwanted and new, or second-hand, items in a public space.
The phrase car boot sale is derived from the habits of sellers who fill their vehicles' trunks — the cars' boots — with items to sell. These items can range from expensive antiques and heirlooms to inexpensive trinkets and children's toys. Books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, home decor and computer equipment are some of the most popular items bought and sold at boot sales. Much like an American garage sale, boot sales can carry something for everyone.
Some attributes of a boot sale are:
- Location. Boot sales can be found almost anywhere, from sheep's or cow's fields, market stalls where food or other agricultural products are sold to schools and even parking lots. A boot sale can also take place indoors, in buildings capable of accommodating large numbers of people and their loot. Regardless of where a boot sale takes place, wares are commonly put on display atop a folding table.
- Price. Because boot sales are likely to be organized, there may be fees that must be paid before one is allowed entry. Boot sales sponsored by cities or other centralized entities will likely impose a fee, although it's not impossible to buy or sell at a boot sale for free.
- Times. Many boot sales occur in the summer or during otherwise hospitable weather and on weekends and holidays. A boot sale usually begins very early in the morning when the sun rises. Serious buyers will arrive at a boot sale early to get the best deals.
- Numbers. Unlike American garage sales where only a few dozen buyers may show up on someone's driveway, the boot sale's use of public space typically brings in a high number of buyers. Attendees often number in the high hundreds or low thousands.
Boot sales can also act as the setting for social gatherings, since professional and hobbyist buyers regularly attend the same sales. Stands that sell french fries, hamburgers, doughnuts or other cheap foods encourage buyers to extend their visits.
A UK boot sale can be advertised in newspapers, but it's more common to find an announcement on a flier close to where the boot sale will take place. It's not uncommon for advertisements to be minimal or even non-existent, relying on word-of-mouth and a core group of buyers for sales.
While certain standards of decorum are observed, haggling is expected, and some would say encouraged, as it contributes to the feel of an authentic boot sale. The atmosphere is rich enough to warrant its own vernacular. For example, professional boot sale attendees who eagerly crowd sellers' vehicles before they've finished putting their wares on display are referred to as "scrum."
In addition, the highly organized "boot fair" popularized in the 1980s helped make the attendance of boot sales a favorite weekend pastime in the UK.