Larry Drahn walked out onto his porch and opened his eyes wide.
“What’s going on?” he exclaimed.
Drahn gawked at the hundreds of people lining the sidewalk in front of his York Avenue home. It was just before 9 a.m. Saturday.
They were bargain hunters, he was told - people waiting to pick over the remains of Smith’s Home Furnishings. Fred’s Appliance & Home Entertainment, 2525 N. Monroe, was liquidating appliances from Smith’s bankrupt stores. Shoppers from Spokane and North Idaho crowded onto Monroe, spilled around the corner, and flowed west another block along York.
Some came to the parking lot sale before 8 a.m. To keep the masses at bay, Fred’s employees had built a wall of refrigerators, sealing the open sides of the striped sale tent.
Rob Walker waited. He has a new home in the works, and needs appliances. But Walker was skeptical as he stood rifling through other vendors’ sale ads. “You gotta know prices,” he advised.
Steven Boyd, a business owner himself, watched the line stretch behind him. “I wish I could generate a crowd like this,” he said. Boyd needed a refrigerator, and as many $30 microwaves as he could scare up - so he could sell them later.
Mike Pursel, Fred’s advertising agent, chased the line’s growing tail, handing out pink fliers detailing sale rules.
Rule No. 1: Each item on display was plastered with price tags, one for each item in stock. Grabbing a tag ensured customers an appliance.
Rule No. 2: All sales are final.
Pursel whirled about the crowd in a blur of pink fliers.
“It’s semi-controlled mayhem,” he gasped.
Just when the throng began to grumble and fidget, a gap in the wall of refrigerators opened at 9 a.m. The river of shoppers gushed forward.
Some nearly drowned. A guy on a cellular phone told a friend to “come down NOW” and bring the neighbor, too.
Once underneath the big top of bargains, people zipped through the maze of stoves, washers, dryers and refrigerators. The deals wouldn’t last forever.
Dave Justus of Bonners Ferry got exactly what he came for, a Whirlpool stove. It was $699. Justus said he saw the same model in Coeur d’Alene for more than $800.
Calls to Whirlpool dealers in Spokane proved the price was low. Cash price for the same model at one dealer was $854, and $709 at another.
Justus was happy. He said he would have bought a refrigerator, too, but couldn’t fit both in his minivan.
Not everyone found the booty they sought. Gina Tessitore, came looking for Smith’s furniture, not appliances. Smith’s was supposed to have delivered a living room set to her the day after the stores went out of business.
Fortunately, she only put $100 down. But she still really wanted the Southwestern set she ordered.
“I liked it so much I’d pay again,” she said.
Some just couldn’t decide. Kyle and Mary Ann Goodwin stared, gazes locked, at a washer and dryer set. Their 1-year-old son, Anthony, watched the mayhem from a pack on dad’s back.
Would the couple buy?
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I think we probably will,” he said.
“He’s the impulse buyer,” she said.
All the excitement affected other businesses, too. The Coffee Connection, a small espresso stand next to Fred’s, was swamped.
At Lloyd’s Appliance & TV Cen ter, 1233 N. Division, things were busy as well. Salesman Gary King said the appliance-buying beast had bitten everyone.
“We’ve had a great deal of activity in our store directly attributable to the crush at Fred’s,” King said. “We’re pleasantly surprised.”
The sale starts again today at 9 a.m.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo