Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale deemed a sucess despite afternoon heat

Lauren Brittain, of Lawrence, looks through some shoes at Urban Outfitters, 1013 Massachusetts St., during the 56th annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Thursday, July 16, 2015.

As the city’s much-anticipated retail fest wound down Thursday, the overall verdict was a hot success.

The 56th annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale had a mix of weather and a slew of shoppers.

Overcast skies and a cool breeze kept the temperature below 80 degrees for most of the morning — a good start for shoppers and merchants alike — but by midafternoon the heat index had surpassed 100 degrees. Consequently, the sale saw most of its thousands of shoppers in the morning, with crowds thinning out once the heat kicked in, said Sally Zogry, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

“All in all, it’s been a very smooth sale, but we can’t control the weather; it’s summer in Kansas,” Zogry said, adding that businesses that also offered discounts inside tended to do better than those with only outdoor fare.

In front of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., backpacks and sleeping bags hung from a tree as people browsed through clothes, shoes and outdoor equipment on the sidewalk, which had been doubled in size by incorporating parking spaces in front of the store. Ashton Lambie, Sunflower sales staff, wore a tuxedo in lieu of the red staff shirt as he played the accordion for shoppers.

Lambie took a break from his music from time to time to announce details about sales over a megaphone. Sara Bilhimer, a manager at the outdoor shop, reported that morning sales were right on track with past years. Sunflower opened at 6 a.m. to a waiting crowd of a couple dozen people, Bilhimer said.

“It’s the biggest sales day of the year for us,” she said. “That includes Christmas and Black Friday.”

Meredith Chapple, of Lawrence, was shopping the sale for her first time and by 9 a.m. said she had stopped by about five stores. She leaned against a storefront with a couple of bags at her feet as she listened to a man playing a banjo nearby.

“It’s really lively and entertaining,” she said, pointing to the nonprofit stands giving away free merchandise as well as to the musicians along Massachusetts Street.

In addition to nonprofit stands, such as Douglas County CASA, Kansas Public Radio and the Sunrise Project, pop-up food vendors added to the options for shoppers. At the US Bank Plaza at the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts streets, shoppers grabbed a bite at the La Familia stand, which sold breakfast burritos and tacos.

Among those stopping for breakfast was Megan Griggs, who has been a Downtown Lawrence Inc. volunteer for the sale for the past three years. Griggs said she arrived downtown about 4:45 a.m. to find that some stores already had lines dozens of people long.

“I do notice every year people tend to get here earlier and earlier,” she said.

That was certainly the case at Arizona Trading Co., 736 Massachusetts St., which had a “fill a bag for $5” sale. Lindsay Schell, supervisor at Arizona, said the store opened a few minutes earlier than its planned time of 6 a.m. because people were waiting outside.

“It’s been really steady,” she said of the flow of shoppers.

But by afternoon, the clouds had gone, making way for temperatures in the mid-90s with a heat index around 105 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Offers of respite from the heat became increasingly popular — including five indoor cooling stations with free water, nonprofits handing out paper fans and food vendors selling frozen treats. Honey Bear Fruit Pops opened up around noon at the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts streets, selling homemade popsicles.

“Once people start seeing popsicles, they seek us out,” said Teri Grunthaner, co-owner of Honey Bear, which uses local produce to create flavors such as blackberry rose and cucumber lemon mint.

The sale went until sundown, and Zogry said she expected another wave of shoppers in the early evening, once people were off work and the temperature started to go down. Despite the July heat, Zogry said, it’s an engaging community gathering.

“Overall, part of what’s fun about it is seeing folks you haven’t seen for a while,” she said.

2015 Sidewalk Sale coverage