Around Town

The exclusive, online Ballantyne group that has more than 21,000 members

Jenn Gillis Carey was sitting in Christmas Mass last year when she suddenly felt her phone vibrating over and over. She stepped out and found notifications from some of the thousands of members of several buy, sell and trade-related Facebook groups created by her and her sister Barb Gillis.

The largest group, called Ballantyne Bargains, has more than 21,000 members with about 5,000 waiting to get in at any given time.

“We have to approve everyone,” Carey said. “You’ve got to know someone in the group or have your account active for a certain amount of time.”

It’s a precaution to attempt to weed out spammers, but it also helps keep the group members as local as possible. “The focus is to be local. We want people to be able to jump in their car and drive two minutes to pick up an item,” Gillis said.

Buy, sell and trade groups are huge on Facebook right now, with members posting both new and used items that they no longer need, in hopes of making a quick buck. Often called “yard sale” groups, they attract buyers who hope to pick up items at a deep discount. Potential buyers simply comment on the post saying they’re interested and then make plans to meet and exchange payment.

Charlotte has several of these groups, but Ballantyne Bargains and its sister group Ballantyne Bargains 4 Kids are among the largest.

“Any time you pull into Blakeney or Stonecrest, there’s a huge cluster of us,” Carey said.

For safety reasons, buyers and sellers mostly meet in well-lit and populated areas like shopping centers. The sisters started their groups because they love finding a good deal — Carey has decorated most of her house with items people sold on Ballantyne Bargains — and they don’t want to go far to get it. But sometimes being an admin of such a huge and diverse group comes at a price.

“I’ve received threats,” Carey said. “We had one person say they were getting an attorney and they knew where I lived.”

Gillis has a full-time job and Carey is busy with her kids, but the groups have steadily taken up more and more of their lives. Both women receive upwards of 100 messages per week from members of the groups who want them to police transactions and enforce the lengthy list of rules that members must follow. Sometimes the sisters have to act as judge, jury and executioner to maintain order on the page.

Like most buy, sell and trade pages, the rules are simple and common-sense: show up on time, bring exact change, don’t “cross-post” or post your item for sale in multiple groups … the list goes on. Carey said most one-time violations are forgivable, but repeat offenders are kicked out.

“Some people say we’re on a power trip but we want a page that’s solid,” Carey said. As for what’s for sale, Ballantyne Bargains currently features everything from custom drapes from a model home, a brand-new prom dress, a 2013 travel camper and more. During the snowstorm a few weeks back, someone listed a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk for sale at an astronomical price.

“What always gets me is old shoes — people will list their old shoes for sale,” Gillis said. “I don’t know if they sell or not, but they list them.”

Even though things have gotten hectic at times, both sisters mainly love being a part of something that’s so huge out in Ballantyne. Sometimes people recognize them in public, and businesses often give them discounts. “We’ve met so many good people and great friends, so it’s worth it,” Gillis said.