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Indianapolis is tops for fantastic museums and a great church sale


People waited patiently to be among the first to get into the Second Presbyterian Church sale in June.

Jill Cornfield | CNBC

If you love yard sales as much as you love bargain travel, there's one Midwestern metropolis that's a perfect match for you.

Indianapolis, population 820,000 or so, boasts a number of the usual sightseeing suspects, including museums for art and nature, medicine, Native American artifacts and military history.

But you want serendipity and bargain shopping. In that case, plan your trip for the first weekend in June or November, when the Second Presbyterian Church converts its more than 17,000 square feet into a sales floor.

Given rising prices for clothes, electronics and anything else made in China because of tariffs, it makes sense to look for rummage-sale bargains. The church itself is worth a visit for its neo-Gothic architecture alone.

One couple makes the trip from Kentucky twice a year for the sale, according to Cindy Swider, a congregant who volunteers as a greeter.

Easy to shop

Want men's or women's clothing? Shoes? Dishware? Kids' toys and books? The church's dedicated congregant volunteers sort donations year-round into meticulous categories and subcategories.

The level of organization is especially impressive when you compare it with typical sales that place stacks of random paperbacks next to cosmetics organizers and small kitchen appliances.

Carved wooden temple box is a typical sale donation at Secpnd Presbyterian Church's rummage sale.

Jill Cornfield

Men's and women's clothing is sorted by type of garment — suits, shorts, polo shirts, athletic wear, dresses, swimwear, dress shoes, sneakers, slippers, sandals. Other sales sections — for home and garden, housewares, china, books, jewelry and some antiques — are similarly curated. Grab a map when you enter to find your way.

Half an hour after the last sale opened in June, the Vera Bradley table held about a third of its original, three-foot pile of bags, wallets and totes — assorted small, medium and large bags in colorful paisley and floral patterns.

The second day of the sale that table was stripped, and small Vera Bradley totes were going for $1 and $2. Anyone looking to try a little retail arbitrage could try their hand for a relatively small outlay.

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Second Presbyterian's well-heeled congregants and donors like to travel. As well as domestic items from big chain retail stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond or Pier 1 Imports, the June sale also had carved wooden temple boxes and Indian block-printed canvas shopping bags.

The amenity kits from flying first class, available in a previous year, were scooped up within a couple of hours of the sale's opening day.

Beyond the sale

The 284-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument serves as the cultural heart of Indianapolis.

Cody Bailey/Visit Indy

If you spend the weekend, you'll have time after the sale ends at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, to check out the city's other attractions.

Morgan Snyder, director of public relations for city tourism board Visit Indy, says it's easy to fill an entire long weekend with activities. The city has the world's largest children's museum, which boasts an explosive Dale Chihuly tower. Newfields is a 152-acre campus that comprises an art museum, beer garden, the nationally landmarked Lilly House, gardens and a nature park.

"It's a booming city, and those that come to Indianapolis for the first time are pleasantly surprised," Snyder said.

Other musts for an Indianapolis visit: St. Elmo Steak House (established 1902) has a famous, sinus-clearing shrimp cocktail with fresh horseradish. ("They shave it daily," Snyder said, referring to the spicy root.)

There's also pork tenderloin sandwiches (available in many places) with a flat-pounded fried tenderloin that covers the plate. "It's actually much larger than the bun," Snyder said.

Winter seems to be coming later each year, and Snyder says November is a perfect time to visit. A week after the sale, the city opens its annual nightly light show at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis.

CHECK OUT: 5 questions to ask yourself before buying a home, even if you can afford a down payment via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.


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