Thousands of bargain-hunters and browsers descended on Lawrence today to take advantage of the annual citywide sidewalk sale.
"It seems like it gets better every year," said Joe Flannery, president of Weaver's Department Store, 901 Mass. "Not only is this our best day of the summer, but it's probably the funnest for everyone working."
Flannery was one of dozens of merchants and employees of downtown stores who were outside helping customers find the right items this morning.
Thousands of shoppers jammed both sides of the sidewalk along Massachusetts Street for this year's sale, which began at 6:30 a.m. for many stores.
"We came down last year and loved it, and so we wanted to come back this year," said Marlene Partridge, 35, Leavenworth.
Mrs. Partridge was looking for a wedding dress with her two daughters, Sheila and Shelli, both 8.
"WE GOT UP early and got here about 8:30," she said. "They have a lot of good sales and a lot of nice clothes I could go crazy."
Many downtown stores will be open until 8:30 p.m. today to accommodate shoppers.
Store employees and veteran sidewalk sale shoppers said this year's crowd matched or exceeded the number of people at the event last year.
"I think they've got more people than last year," said Edwin Hessemyer of St. Joseph, Mo.
"I couldn't imagine it being such an event like this . . . it's better than Christmas (crowds)," he said.
Hessemyer and Dude Clark, Savannah, Mo., were resting while waiting for their wives to return from browsing across the street.
When Hessemyer's wife, Inez, returned, she joked, "I haven't spent any money yet, so we may be here all day."
The Missouri couples said they had arisen about 6 a.m. in order to arrive in Lawrence early for the sale.
"I THINK it's getting pretty well-known in towns all over the area," Edwin Hessemyer said.
He added that St. Joseph does not have a downtown sidewalk sale.
Mary Newell of Oskaloosa said she and her daughter, Carolyn, 29, arrived at the sale about 6:30 a.m.
"I've been to the car several times, already" to drop off purchases, Mrs. Newell said. "We're buying gifts for birthdays and some gifts for Christmas."
Carolyn Newell, Lawrence, said she took the day off from work to attend the sale.
In addition to having a large crowd again this year, the event filled most downtown parking spaces.
Shoppers said they had to look 15 to 20 minutes to find a space, and usually ended up parking blocks away from Massachusetts Street.
With today's temperature expected to reach 100 degrees, merchants said they expected the crowds to be large until early afternoon.
"PEOPLE ARE out now trying to beat the heat," said Chuck Rosenbaum, a barber at Amyx Barber Shop, 842 Mass. "It will slow down this afternoon, but around 5 it'll start to pick up again."
Stores in other areas of the city also were holding special outdoor sales today.
"We had the parking lot full at 7 a.m. when we opened," said Steve Wyss, manager of J.C. Penney, 1801 W. 23rd.
"It sounds to me like the ones that were here first were going to go downtown afterward, and the ones that were downtown first had come here after," he said.
Jean Guess, manager of Rod's Hallmark Shop, 711 W. 23rd., said employees put out extra merchandise for its sidewalk sale, which runs through Sunday.
"They'll wander out here eventually," she said of shoppers.
South of downtown, merchandise at Coast to Coast Hardware, 1832 Mass., was being bought as it was placed outside, said store manager Bob Zimmerman.
"THEY WERE here before we could put it all out," he said.
Terry York, manager of K mart, 3106 Iowa, said the store opened early with a sidewalk sale of its own that will run through the weekend.
"I thought the heat might have kept people away . . . but it looks like there will be several shoppers. We're anticipating a successful weekend."
Calico Barn, 1410 Kasold, also is holding a sale outside today.
"We'll probably just have it today," said Thelma Taylor, manager of the store. "We kind of like to keep it special by just having the sale on one day," she said.
Taylor said a "steady stream" of customers had visited the store since 7:15 a.m.
A "mini" sidewalk sale also was being held by Hobby Lobby, 601 Kasold, said Christian Santiago, a store employee.