Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale to celebrate 60th year Thursday

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Amy Schmidt-Cowardin, store manager at Eccentricity, 716 Massachusetts St., prices inventory in preparation for the 60th Annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, which is scheduled for Thursday, July 18, 2019.

Amy Schmidt-Cowardin was unpacking boxes last week and pricing new inventory at Eccentricity in preparation for Thursday’s sidewalk sale — a beloved downtown Lawrence celebration now in its 60th year.

“Everything in the store will be up to 70% off,” said Schmidt-Cowardin, the manager of the shop at 716 Massachusetts St. “All our KU wear will be marked $5, $10 or $15. We have new items from our sister store in Salina.”

The shop, like most downtown, should be ready to open at 6 a.m. Thursday. Although the event is advertised as being from sunup to sundown, a few stores will actually being doing business in the dark of 5 a.m. Sunrise will be just after 6 a.m.

The sidewalk sale tradition began in 1959. To mark the 60th year, Downtown Lawrence Inc. will raffle a diamond necklace donated by Kizer Cummings Jewelers, 833 Massachusetts St.

About 100 businesses and community organizations are expected to participate this year, according to Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

To enter the necklace raffle, shoppers must bring $50 of receipts from stores participating in the sidewalk sale to the Downtown Lawrence Inc. headquarters at 805 Massachusetts St. during the event.

“There are fun giveaways just for participating,” Zogry said.

Something that shoppers obviously didn’t have 60 years ago were cellphones and the ability to download the Downtown Lawrence app that will feature Sidewalk Sale specials from participating retailers and flash deals. App users can text “DLI” to 74574 on both Apple and Android phones, or they can stop at the headquarters for information.

A Thursday tradition

For some, a large citywide sidewalk sale might seem more like a weekend event. But Thursday is part of the tradition, Zogry said.

“Think about 1959. There were housewives and kids, and people could spend the day downtown,” she said. “Today, 53% of the workforce commutes to Topeka or Kansas City.”

Despite that statistic, the sale remains wedded to Thursday, and businesses have found that the sale vibe usually flows into the weekend.

The sidewalk sale also has some regional appeal, Zogry said. People come from places such as Des Moines, Wichita, Manhattan and Omaha to shop for bargains at longtime specialty stores such as the Yarn Barn, 930 Massachusetts St., Footprints, 1339 Massachusetts St., and Stitch On Needlework & Gifts, 926 Massachusetts St.

Locals do the same, Zogry said, often with the expectation of running into people they know.

“So many people come out,” she said. “You can see your neighbor or your second grade teacher.”

Most businesses have sale racks outside, but just because a business doesn’t have a presence outside in the heat — Thursday’s temperature will be near 100 degrees — doesn’t mean it isn’t participating, Zogry said. For some businesses such as Waxman Candles, 609 Massachusetts St., the July heat and candles don’t mix, but the sale will be going on indoors. Deb Werts, the co-owner of Waxman, said the longtime retailer would open at 6 a.m. with plenty of bargains.

At Brits, 929 Massachusetts St., Queen Elizabeth II (the large cardboard cutout) and tins of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor commemorative fruit drops will remain indoors.

“It’s always way too hot,” said Sally Helm, owner of Brits, explaining that shop’s sale items will be just inside the door.

Various organizations will also be using sidewalk space. The League of Women Voters of Lawrence/Douglas County always has a booth, Zogry said. Several Lawrence City Commission candidates plan to be campaigning, and Kansas Athletics will have a bouncy house for kids.

The Social Service League, a thrift store at 905 Rhode Island St, comes downtown for the sale.

“They have crazy deals on designer clothes,” Zogry said.

Creature comforts

In 60 years, Zogry said, the sidewalk sale was only totally rained out once. The forecast for Thursday is lots of sun and heat, with a high of 97 degrees — typical mid-July weather for Kansas. To help refresh shoppers, Checkers Foods will be offering free watermelon from 1 to 4 p.m. next to the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts St.

The heat won’t mess up anything at Wonder Fair, 841 Massachusetts St. The shop considers the annual sidewalk sale an opportunity to embrace its mistakes.

“We call it ‘blunder fair,'” said Jhami Guffey, an employee. The store brings out all the items that haven’t sold in the past, some with little imperfections. Plus, the artists who consign with Wonder Fair will be selling their work.

“It’s a good day to pick up really good art,” Guffey said.

Cooling stations with free water will be located at the Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.; The Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St.; Pickleman’s, 818 Massachusetts St.; and the Eldridge. Portable toilets will also be available downtown.

The best bet for parking is at one of three downtown parking garages at 935 New Hampshire St., 725 Vermont St. or One Riverfront Plaza.

The sale is set to end at sundown, which will be around 8:45 p.m., although many retailers will likely call it a day a bit before then.

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