For many, the annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale is an annual tradition — wake up early, grab some coffee and begin browsing the discounted merchandise lining Massachusetts Street, sometimes as early as 5 a.m. For the businesses downtown, the day often starts before the sun is up as they ready their merchandise and mark their territory on the concrete area in front of their businesses.
Over the years, despite the chaotic nature of the day, most businesses have learned a thing or two, and have tips of the trade to keeping customers and employees happy.
• Sidewalk Sale is typically sunup to sundown, said Sally Zogry, Downtown Lawrence, Inc.'s incoming executive director. Some stores will open at 5 a.m., some won't open until 8 a.m. If wanting to be first in line for a specific business, it is best to call the store prior to Thursday to find out an exact open time.
• There will be water and cooling stations on each block of Massachusetts Street.
• Massachusetts Street traffic does not shut down. Parking along Massachusetts Street will still be available, as well as in the parking garage and two-hour, 10-hour and metered lots.
• There will be portable toilets for shoppers to use.
1. Out with the old before in with the new
Dan Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 802 Massachusetts St., said that before the sale, the staff sorts through overstocked items to move them out before winter.
“Every year at this time when an employee tells me we have way too much of a specific item, the more I cringe, the better deal the customer gets,” Hughes said.
Sarah Heironimus, senior staff member at Third Planet, 846 Massachusetts St., said the store tries to pull out as much merchandise as possible to give customers the best deals and to be sure there is room in the fall and winter when it’s time to stock new items.
2. A smiling staff is a selling staff
“One thing we’ve learned is a happy and engaged staff is a good staff,” Hughes said. “Keeping the staff happy and motivated is key.”
Heironimus said that along with regular staff working on Sidewalk Sale day, the store also recruits extra help to make sure workers aren’t overwhelmed or overworked.
“We have one person devoted to holding a clipboard and making sure people get breaks and get switched from outside to inside,” Heironimus said.
Heironimus said the store stocks up on water, snacks and hydrating drinks and at Sunflower Outdoor, the staff typically gets breakfast and T-shirts.
3. Layout is key
When people are hurrying to get from store to store before all of the best deals are gone, traffic can get high. It’s important to be sure aisles are large enough for multiple customers and that items aren’t squished together. Spread the merchandise throughout the store to help spread out the crowd.
“You have to have a good layout,” said Brent Hill, manager of Francis Sporting Goods, 731 Massachusetts St. “You can’t have things scattered.”
Hill suggested making sure that items are separated based on gender or theme, don’t interlock them, and to continue to fix it throughout the day so it stays that way.
4. Stay organized all day
“We continue to organize everything throughout the sale so as the day goes on, it’s not a mess by the end of the day,” Hill said.
Shauna Swanson, ow-owner of Hobbs, 700 Massachusetts St., said the store organizes by specific bins with prices, while other stores just keep a goal of making sure aisles are clear and neatly set out.
By keeping the areas clean, it makes the merchandise more appealing because customers don’t have to literally dig through mounds or piles — everything is displayed and easily accessible.
Deals and steals
A sampling of what some stores will have on sale Thursday:
American Apparel: $5
Premium Denim: $20
• Prairie Patches
Discontinued Vera Bradley
• Game Nut
Discounted used movies and video games
• Third Planet
Bins of $5 clothing
Like the store on a social media site and get a free piece of jewelry with any purchase.
• Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop
Brand names like North Face fleece and SmartWool socks.
5. Keep things fresh
Swanson said part of Hobbs' strategy is to hold back on putting out all merchandise at once.
“We definitely bring stuff out throughout the day so it doesn’t look so picked over — it always looks new,” Swanson said.
Swanson said this strategy is also good for the customers because if they aren’t the first at the store, they’ll still have a chance to get great deals on demanded items rather than what’s left after the early birds have come through.
To lessen the risk of somehow not hitting sale goals on Thursday, Sunflower has a presale the night before Sidewalk Sales. It started when one year it was scheduled to rain during the annual shopping event. By having the presale, it allows the store to keep extreme heat or rain from damaging high-value merchandise.
“It gives a first shot for customers to get deals and spreads the risk between two days,” Dan said.
7. Bring the air conditioning outside
Hobbs doesn’t force customers inside to get some cool air — it brings it to the customers. Swanson said that the store will have a giant fan and ice blocks to help keep their store-front cooler for staff and shoppers.
“Last year we bought 180 lbs of ice,” Swanson said.
Not only does it keep everyone cooler but it also helps attract customers who may need a break from the beating sun.
8. It pays to stay indoors
Made owner Matt Richards said for businesses that don’t typically have a lot of old stock, offering a blanket discount on items inside is more reasonable for the business.
Other places having deals outside said that because it usually gets so hot, having sales inside is helpful to the customers and the employees.
“We do lots of specials inside and customers can see some of the new, less-discounted items too,” said Cinda Garrison, owner of Prairie Patches, 821 Massachusetts St.
She said that because people are already in the buying mentality, they probably will be interested in buying items that may not be as cheap as the older merchandise on the sidewalk.
The Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale will be held Thursday. Typically stores are open from sunup to sundown.