Hot to shop, customers brave cold for London Fog SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

December 08, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Many customers got cold feet, but they stayed to buy anyway.

Thousands came for the bargains last weekend as Londontown Corp. opened its doors to the public for a once-a-year inventory clearance.

For many, getting to those doors meant a long, chilling wait in a line that wound around the building and beyond into uninhabited areas of Eldersburg.

"I just saw John and Mary," said their neighbor. "They are over that hill back there."

"Can you get frost-bitten toes in this weather?" asked one woman in line, stomping to restore circulation.

"No, the temperature is not at freezing point," someone assured her.

Fire regulations allow a maximum of 620 people in the 100,000-square-foot selling space. All weekend, the buying crowd reached maximum capacity. Employees manned the doors, counting customers' comings and goings to keep the numbers legal.

"We can take another 20." The line inched on.

"It's more than a sale; we call it an event," said Jim Haneschlager, vice president for human resources, who was not surprised at the response to the unadvertised sale, which usually takes place after Thanksgiving.

"We have 700 employees here and 2,500 statewide," said Mr. Haneschlager. "They invite family and friends."

The family and friends clogged the Route 32 entrance to the plant from 5 p.m. Friday until late Sunday afternoon as state troopers worked to unsnarl traffic.

Many drivers circled the line, rolled down a window and asked, "How long you been waiting?"

When they weighed the 50 percent savings on new London Fog outerwear to 90 minutes in the cold, most parked the car and joined the line.

Generations of families, from grandparents to toddlers in strollers, swelled the ranks of the waiting, which fostered a cheery camaraderie among complete strangers. Many were on a first-name basis with those ahead and behind long before they reached the main door.

"We'll just stay a half-hour," mothers promised restless children. "We'll be inside and warm by then."

But once in line, they stayed, regardless of where they were and when. The glassed-in foyer beckoned as they marched doggedly on to sales headquarters.

"I don't care if I can't find my size or style, I am buying something when I get in there," said one determined shopper.

Many left the sale carring piles of coats, offering the promise of good buys to those waiting.

"Hang in there," they would say. "It's worth it, but you should have come early."

Management did its part to stave off the effects of the cold, serving steaming cups of hot chocolate and coffee.

As the rain began to fall, one resourceful salesman came out with a line of umbrellas. "Buy now before you get inside," he suggested.

Finally, the weary heard the lucky entry number. Families and friends tried to stay together, bargaining as the employee counted to his quota. "He's only half a person, please let him in," said one father pointing to his child, who fell behind the cut-off number.

Occasionally, families experienced brief separations. A weary father exited the plant with his arms full of two children, a diaper bag and no purchases.

"Where's Mommy?" asked one child.

"Lost in the racks," he said. "We'll wait in the car. She'll find us."

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