The semi-annual Kidsignments sale has grown over the last 25 years from an event held in Jeri Lynn Cunningham’s garage in Lilburn to one that packs the exhibit space at the Gwinnett County fairgrounds — but Cunningham isn’t sure it ever would have begun if her family lived closer.

The sale began in the fall of 1994 when Cunningham, who had an 18-month-old son at the time, recognized that it wasn’t easy — or cheap — to get clothes and toys for constantly growing toddlers. She didn’t have family that lived nearby so hand-me-downs weren’t really an option.

So, she decided to start a place where she and other moms facing the same situation could buy gently used clothing and toys for their kids at discount prices.

“I thought it would be fun to have folks bring things and we would just become a big family and swap clothes and what we couldn’t use (we’d) make available for families in the community to purchase,” Cunningham said. “Had I had a bunch of family in the Atlanta area, I don’t know if I would have started this or not, but I’m glad that I didn’t so that I could (start Kidsignments).”

The concept caught on and quickly outgrew Cunningham’s home, moving to the fairgrounds in 1997 and then continuing to grow and fill that space as well.

And this week, it will reach a major milestone.

Kidsignments will celebrate its 25th birthday when it opens Tuesday at the fairgrounds, which are located at 2405 Sugarloaf Pkwy in Lawrenceville. It will continue for five days.

“We’re going to do some special giveaways on opening day, some shopping credits for our great, wonderful sellers so we’re hoping that they’ll like that,” Cunningham said. “We haven’t really advertised it.”

When the first Kidsignments sale was held in 1994, Cunningham got 24 people together to sell their old children’s items out of her two-car garage for three days.

By 1996 — the last year Cunningham operated the semi-annual event held every spring and fall out of her home — she had 89 vendors.

To say it was a tight fit might be an understatement.

“At the end of every sale day I would bring everything back in my garage, and it was really packed tightly in there,” Cunningham said. “You had bikes and big, plastic toys and clothes racks and a lot of stuff ... I have a picture of myself (somewhere) trapped in the middle of my garage trying to climb out.”

These days, the number of vendors who can participate in a Kidsignments sales — which now lasts five days, by the way — is capped at 1,500 and Cunningham said there is a waiting list of vendors beyond that number hoping for an opening to get in.

Clothing and toys range from pregnancy and infants up to juniors and young men’s clothing for teens.

Whatever isn’t sold or picked up by vendors after the sale ends is donated to the Lilburn Co-Operative Ministry.

Sharing children’s clothing and toys before eBay was a thingIt may be harder to picture for parents who now have young children, but moms who had young children in the early 1990s might remember that it wasn’t as easy to get access to gently used clothing and toys.

In fact, Kidsignments predates (barely) one online retailer who specializes in such sales — eBay.

“For kids, they go through their clothes or toys in a short time as they grow and there is so much more wear in their items and when we started, eBay wasn’t around yet,” Cunningham said. “There were some trading forums, but most people just didn’t have their own computer in their hands — or even in their houses — back then ...1994 was a different era.”

Cunningham also said she thinks the appeal of Kidsignments is that “everyone loves a treasure hunt” where they can search for deals.

“Kidsignments has been a really fun treasure hunt,” she said. “A typical shopper can come in on opening day and find an entire wardrobe for their child at an average savings of 75% off retail sales.”

Memories galore of snow storms, solar eclipses and runaway cars

There have been three times over the years when it has snowed during a Kidsignments sale period.

The first time was in October 1995. Since it was still held at Cunningham’s home back then, several vendors were set up outside in her driveway.

“It actually snowed on us during our preview event because it was outdoors,” she said. “That was one of those years where we got an early dusting of snow. I think we had 66 sellers that time.”

It certainly wouldn’t be the last time snow made an impact on Kidsignments.

There was one year in the early 2000s when the hours had to be cut so the event opened later in the morning and closed earlier in the afternoon, but it was still packed with customers.

And then there was the big snowstorm that hit metro Atlanta in early 2014. That one forced Kidsignments to be closed for two days.

But, once again, customers came out in droves once the sale was able to open.

“When we opened back up, we had a line of people from when we opened up at 9 a.m. — we opened on a Saturday,” Cunningham said. “I think we had a line to get in for five hours that day. I think people were tired of being trapped in their homes and it was like ‘Hey, Kidsignments is open. Let’s go out there.’ “

Cunningham has other memories that pop out in her mind when she looks back at the last 25 years.

There was a near total solar eclipse during the vendor pick-up day at the end of August 2017 sale, for example.

But as far as memories go, few may top the year a customer forgot set the parking brake on her car when she arrived at the sale.

It was when Kidsignments was still held at Cunningham’s home and the car was on a hill leading down to the Kidsignments founder’s home.

The car started rolling down the hill while its owner shopped at the sale.

As the car rolled down the hill, one of Cunningham’s neighbors was able to jump inside it, pull the emergency brake and get it stopped.

“The lady who owned the car came running across the yard and said she got so excited when she saw the stuff in the driveway, she forgot to put her emergency brake on and put it in park,” Cunningham said.

“Of course most of my neighbors who were helping were men and they were just teasing her (saying) ‘Oh, don’t get in the middle of a mom shopping.’”

Still a family draw — for a new generationBut throughout the last 25 years, one thing has remained constant about the event: It continues to draw in families looking for a bargain on children’s items.

There has been one aspect of more recent Kidsignments, however, that has marked how long it has been going on.

Some of the parents of young children who come shopping now were children whose parents were buying stuff for them at the sale in its early years.

Take Cunningham’s son, Branden, as an example of how much time has passed for the children who benefited from the early sales. He was just 18 months old when Kidsignments began.

He is now 27.

“It’s been fun to watch the kids grow up and have families of their own and come back and sell with us with their kids,” Cunningham said. “Twenty-five years is a long time, but then again, it seems very short at the same time because it’s been a lot of fun.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta. I eventually wandered away from home and attended the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Miss., where I first tried my hand at majoring in film for a couple of years. And then political sc