When hostess extraordinaire Martha Stewart wanted to raise money for the Martha Stewart Centers for Living, geriatric wellness centers that she has recently established in partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, she and her friend, Chris Hessney, an event producer out of New York City, decided to host a charity tag sale on her Bedford, N.Y., farm. Named the “Great American Tag Sale,” the event took place April 23-24, raised more than $800,000 for the charity and was filmed for a pilot that will be aired on ABC on May 25.
As impressive as Stewart is, she could not have done the event on her own and called in three experts to advise on pricing and cataloging with the goal of making sure not only was nothing left over but that the most money possible was raised. Rising to that challenge superbly were two long-term friends and antiques dealers Stewart has known for about 30 years: Vincent Manzo (The East Hampton Yard Sale, East Hampton, N.Y.) and James “Jim” Klinko (Fine2Consign Antiques, Westport, Conn.). Rounding out the trio was Frank Kaminski, whose Beverly, Mass.-based auction house, Kaminski Auctions, has conducted two previous auctions for Stewart. We reached out to the team for some inside scoop on what was involved, what they will remember most from the event and what, if anything, the “Great American Tag Sale” has the potential to become.
Vincent and Jim, how long have you known Martha?
VM: I’ve known her for 30 years. I worked with her daughter, Alexis, when I opened East Hampton Yard Sale in 1994.
JK: I’ve known her for about 33 years.
Can each of you tell me about when you first met her – when and where was that?
VM: I was working at Tiffany’s and she and Alexis, her daughter, came in to look at diamonds. Alexis liked how I did yard sales and she wanted to open a store with me. They called me a little later saying they’d found a store. The rest was history.
JK: My store in Westport was on Turkey Hill, near where she lived. She came in and we just struck up a good friendship.
FK: I first met Martha in November 2017 when I was introduced to her by Vincent Manzo, in New York City, at her studios, which were in the Starrett-Lehigh Building on the West Side. This was where she had her test kitchens; she also had her Turkey Hill kitchen she’d perform in front of. We walked around and Vincent mentioned he’d heard that they were moving her studios, and everything needed to be sold. I said, ‘before I take this on, I want to meet her,’ which we did, and it was a wonderful experience. We are both Polish and I said to her, ‘We’re both Polish, some of the hardest working people in America are Polish;’ she liked that. She has a few who work for her. It was a quick meeting.
I took on the project of liquidating all of her props that she used in her TV shows and dismantling her kitchens. That was through Kaminski Auctions. We donated part of the proceeds to her Wellness Centers. That was in April 2018.
We had another sale during Covid, in May 2020, which was quite a challenge. That was when we sold her Turkey Hill commercial kitchen.
Tell me about what was behind the idea for Martha Stewart’s ‘Great American Tag Sale’?
VM: It was Martha’s idea. She wanted to scale down and do something great for the Martha Stewart Centers for Living. She called me in August last year. She also brought in Jim Klinko because she thought we’d make a great team. I hadn’t met him before this. It was just great.
I introduced Frank Kaminski to Martha in 2017 when she was liquidating all of her props and collections from her office. I reached out to a few people but the only one who could do that was Frank. He also sold things from her Turkey Hill kitchen in 2020. If it hadn’t been for Kaminski Auctions and Frank’s team, the tag sale would not have been so easy to pull off.
JK: She has so much surplus; she wanted to do something for the benefit of the wellness center. I thought it was a great idea and she asked if I was interested in helping. I didn’t know either Vincent or Frank, but she put us together and we were a great trio. We have different strengths and areas of expertise; we were able to pull it all together and complimented each other. It was quite an event. A lot of work, and a lot of stress.
FK: I first heard about it a few months ago. She called me and asked me and my crew to get involved with it. Vincent filled me in on what their intentions were and what the game plan was. They needed my crew to move things. I brought in about 11 people I work with, either in Beverly, Mass., or out in our Santa Barbara, Calif., offices.
What were some of the highlights of the entire event for you? What will you remember most about it?
VM: Feeding the peacocks!
Seriously, seeing some of the great stuff that came out of her barns and warehouse. One of the pieces that I had restored for her was a Louis Vuitton wardrobe trunk that my client Ron Greenwald acquired – he was the first person to buy a big-ticket item; I think he paid $3,500.
When Martha walked onto the scene and was signing things it just lit up the room, which was filled with people who have been inspired by Martha and whose lives have been changed by her. She’s really changed the world we know of. I met people from all over the country who came to the tag sale. They are all Martha groupies. They know everything from where she had it. She has created an incredible interest in the antiques market, she’s been a huge influence.
JK: For me, it was when Martha introduced all three of us when she was talking about the people who had made the tag sale possible. I was taken aback and really moved.
Martha puts small businesses like mine on the map or in the forefront of people’s minds. She loves people who work hard and who run a small business. She promotes so many stores in the antiques, food and wine industries.
While they were filming, she really surprised me by giving me a beautiful 4½-foot bronze fountain statue of a cherub. She said ‘I want you to have that’; it was just above and beyond. It will go into a memorial garden I have for her sister, Laura Plimpton, who was one of my best friends.
As I was pricing the pots and pans, there was a KitchenAid mixer; I asked her to sign it and she did; it was gone the next day. It might have gone to Kris Jenner.
During the sale, I couldn’t price things fast enough. I was saying ‘fresh merchandise’ and people were just taking things out of the bins as I carried them.
FK: We – Vincent and I – would call her early in the morning and late at night, to let her know when we’d be leaving, or coming. One morning she told us to come up to the house. She cooked us wonderful French-style scrambled eggs with eggs from her chickens. That was a real highlight for me.
We went out to dinner several times with her. We were at one restaurant – Bedford 234 – and a husband and wife couple who might have been the owners overheard us talking and ended up coming to the tag sale. Another night we ate at the Blue Dolphin diner in Katonah, which has Italian food. We were having so much fun; one of the waitresses taped us on our phones yelling ‘Great American Tag Sale.’
There were some difficult days, it was a lot of hard work, but we had fun. We all worked well with each other, and we met other crews, including Chris Hessney’s crew. They were really involved in the logistics and orchestration of it. And antiques dealers Elizabeth Jackson from Greenwich, Conn., and Jennifer Pascal from Vermont were a great help, too.
It took almost a month, from the time we got down there to the time we finished. We’d walk through the barns, and she’d decide what she wanted to sell. Sometimes she’d change her mind. For people who collect, deciding to part with things can be difficult; it was the same for her. But she has to free up those barns so she can fill them with new things. And she may build more barns, too!
The ‘Great American Tag Sale’ was filmed as a pilot. Does that mean there’s a series? Can you talk about what’s in development for this?
VM: We’re hoping this will turn into something great. The tag sale has the potential to introduce an interest in antiques to people who’ve never considered antiques before. It will change the way estate sales are run and how people view things they have. Television is begging for the kind of show that Martha could give it. You’d learn something, too.
JK: That’s the ‘million dollar’ question. We won’t know until they edit it, and it airs. I’m excited and nervous about it. I know we’ll be mentioned.
FK: I think, and I’ve always said this to Vincent, that Martha is so influential she can change the way people look at antiques. There needs to be a revitalization of the industry and Martha could do that. It was a brilliant idea. There are a lot of celebrities who want to sell – I know this from working with them over the years. I think it’s the perfect match. We all hope that this show is going to be very successful. Whatever she touches turns to gold but it’s a question of whether she wants to continue to do these.
You have no idea how popular this was. They could have sold 10,000 tickets but they – Chris Hessney and his people – were strict about the number of tickets. If we’d had another day, there wouldn’t have been anything left. I’ve never seen anything like it. It goes to show you the popularity of Martha.
Article written by: Madelia Hickman Ring