Giveaway lures hundreds


March 27, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch and Michael Dresser | Arthur Hirsch and Michael Dresser,Staff Writers

The bodies were pushed 10 deep against the glass doors -- pressing, pressing, pressing. Got to get in, got to get inside this airplane hangar of a store and get to the stuff just sitting there for the taking.

It was all there on the other side of the glass. Steel shelves. Chairs. Hangers. Register tape and sheets of pegboard, all free yesterday at three Baltimore-area Ames department stores.

"THERE ARE THINGS IN THE STORE YOU CANNOT TAKE!" shouted Glen Burnie store manager Edward Stokes, standing up on the handrail in front of the glass doors. "YOU CANNOT TAKE THE CEILING TILE, LIGHT BULBS OR BALLASTS!"

It was just minutes before the 10 a.m. opening of the Glen Burnie store and a crowd of maybe 250 stood out of the rain under the overhang that once bore the Ames name. The red letters were gone from the building -- so was the merchandise and the best of the fixtures, sold at a closeout sale days ago.

Now, it was down to the bare bones.

The liquidators hired by Ames figured it wasn't even worth packing these odds and ends and carting them away. So they decided to just let it go, throw open the doors and let the public have it.

Like the Ames stores on Baltimore National Pike and on Liberty Road, the Glen Burnie outlet was a retail weakling, sacrificed so stronger Ames locations might live. A dozen Baltimore-area Ames stores have weathered the Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition filed in 1990 after Ames succumbed to debt from its purchase of the Zayre discount chain in 1988.

At Liberty Road, Leroy Johnson was the first of more than 300 people in line, having arrived with a large truck at 6:30 a.m. "It's not often they give away anything in Baltimore," he said.

"I'll see what they got; that's about it," said Gary Phipps, who came from near Annapolis to the Glen Burnie store to stand in line at 8:15 a.m., when there were only about five people waiting, compared with the hundreds now at his back. "I didn't think there were that many scavengers in the world," Mr. Phipps said.

Craig Horn wasn't the least bit embarrassed. "Anything I can get my hands on," he said. "If it's free, it's me."

Others were more specific. Edith Carter just wanted hangers for her three grandchildren's clothing. "These store hangers are better than the little plastic ones," she said.

Others were looking for action. "I'm here for the riot," said Cris Herman, of Pasadena, an auto parts store owner who was also in the market for shelves for his store.

Mr. Herman was kidding about the riot, but it was no joke at one bankrupt Ames store in Pennsylvania about a week ago when the whole crowd was let in at the same time. It was pandemonium, said Mr. Stokes, sheer madness. The crowd tried to take the cash registers, he said, and ripped into taped cartons of merchandise that were set aside for safety.

Ames took a lesson from that, Mr. Stokes said, and would allow only 15 people in at a time. Nine Baltimore County police officers showed up at Liberty Road, at a cost that one sergeant estimated was between $15 and $25 an hour for each officer. But besides a little pushing, there was no trouble.

At the Glen Burnie store, it took nearly two hours to get the line down to about 20 people. But it took less time than that for someone to find the telephone terminal box on the second floor and cut off a length of wire for his own use. That knocked out the phone service.

The store detective, David J. Hunt, a former Washington police officer, was able to stop a man before he got the telephone from the front service desk. Security officers stopped the people who were trying to make off with a toilet bowl from the rest room.

Diane Ashton of Glen Burnie climbed down the stairs from the second-floor storage room carrying three hula-hoop sized stainless steel rings over her right shoulder. What was she going to do with those?

"I make all kinds of stuff," she said, holding up one ring with both hands and peering through it. "These will make a great wreath."

Bob Asquith of Eastport hauled four pegboard sheets to the service desk at the Glen Burnie store and placed them down beside a shopping cart full of steel shelves and black rubber mats.

"My garage, man," said Mr. Asquith. "I'm going to re-do my garage."

"There's nothing really much," said Albert Washington Jr. of Catonsville, opening his giant plastic garbage bag containing hangers, buttons, plastic racks, tape and a pair of plastic safety goggles -- his modest haul from the Glen Burnie store. "But you want to say you came out with something."

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