Lovers of Homer Laughlin China Company’s Fiesta dinnerware can be a culture unto themselves.
Drawn by discounts of up to 75 percent, they will flock by the thousands to the Flatwoods outlet along Interstate 79 today through Saturday. Some even arrive the night before and camp out, all so they can find that one special piece. Or 50.
Sean Snyder began collecting Fiesta in the 1990s. Before he knew it, he and his partner, Sam Magner, had amassed quite the collection.
Eventually, the couple opened up a spot at the South Charleston Antique Mall. Their booth now has hundreds of varieties in about a dozen different colors.
They get lots of pieces from tent sales, both in Flatwoods and at the company’s home in Newell. Snyder has met people from as far away as Florida, who came to the middle of West Virginia just to get their hands on some super cheap Fiesta.
“It’s a fun time, because you meet people from other areas,” he said. “Everybody has their Fiesta story, how they got started — Grandma had it, Mom had it, or we got this as a wedding present.”
Asked what it is that draws people to Fiesta, Snyder said it was hard to pin down just one thing.
“The color, the design, it just makes people happy,” he said. “For me, it’s West Virginia-made, and that’s just a great thing about it. You can support your fellow West Virginians who work up in the panhandle by buying it.”
The Newell tent sales attract more than 5,000 shoppers each time, and the Flatwoods event usually draws about half that amount. At least 2,500 shoppers are expected this weekend, said Rich Brinkman, vice president of sales and marketing for Fiesta.
Many shoppers will be first-timers and might not be aware of the protocol for tent sales, but if they follow these tips from two old pros and one company expert, they should do just fine.
1. It can get dirty
The polishing process creates some dusty residue, Brinkman said. In addition, the merchandise has been sitting around in a warehouse for some time. You’ll want to wipe the dust off of each piece to make sure it’s scratch- and crack-free before purchasing.
Magner said he left with a filthy shirt the first time he went because he didn’t have anything else to clean the pieces. He suggested taking some old towels along.
Even better, Brinkman recommended old socks.
“They stay on your hands and you can hold onto things while you walk around,” he said. “It’s really the best way to do it.”
2. Time your arrival right
“If you come early, then come really early,” Brinkman said. “If you get in line at 8 a.m., you might not get in the tent until 9:30 or 10. Some of these people show up the night before and they stake their spot.”
He recommends arriving by 7:30 a.m.
Not an early bird? That’s fine, too. If you want to avoid the early morning rush, wait until about 2 p.m.
“It’s not like we run out of product,” he said.
3. Hire a sitter
Those younger than 16 are not allowed to enter the tent.
No, Fiesta doesn’t hate children. It’s actually considering their safety, Brinkman explained.
“It’s an insurance thing,” he said. “We try to be very safety conscious.”
Shoppers occasionally drop plates, creating all kinds of hazards for younger folk.
“I sometimes think we could lower that number a bit, but insurance doesn’t allow it,” he said.
The company takes a firm stand on the matter.
“We’ve had people arrive there with infants and 3-year-olds,” he said.
4. Bring your own wheels
Shoppers receive up to four milk crates to load up their haul. Brinkman said those containers get really heavy in no time at all.
“Bring a two-wheeled dolly, nothing really big, nothing wide,” he said. “The crates are too heavy to carry. One milk carton can be too heavy.”
5. Dress for the weather
“I think it has rained every year,” Brinkman said, adding that after the skies clear, the humidity can create uncomfortable conditions.
It looks like this year won’t be any different.
The forecast calls for evening showers and a high of 80 degrees today, and scattered showers and a high of 70 degrees Friday. Things look better on Saturday, with a forecast calling for clear skies and a high of 66 degrees.
6. Payment methods
American Express and checks are not accepted. All other major credit cards and cash are welcome.
This weekend’s tent sale will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For the first time ever, the 2014 color — poppy — will be available at a discount. In addition to the tent sale, many items in the outlet store — like table linens — will be available at discounts as well.
Reach Life editor Billy Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4830.