By Lisa Esquivel Long
FORT WAYNE — The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is filled with turtles, flamingos and leopards – prints that cover Fort Wayne-based Vera Bradley’s purses and accessories at its annual outlet sale.
“This is Mecca,” one woman told her two friends before they gathered for a selfie photo in front of the coliseum, its windows covered with floral decals announcing the sale.
The sale, which opened to ticket buyers April 10, will continue April 13 and 14 for shoppers without tickets.
Outlet workers wore floral aprons and kept a continuous supply of luggage, towels, flip-flops, straw beach bags and other accessories in addition to Vera Bradley’s signature purses and totes. The company said it was bringing in 37 trailers of product totaling 600,000 pieces.
The first day saw a few men perusing the tables, and not just to kill time while lugging a loved one’s mesh tote filled with merchandise.
Drew Knight came from South Bend for the second year to look for presents.
“Anything that catches my eye,” he said.
Sophia Badder of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, wore a sparkly crown because her second year at the sale fell on her birthday.
She wasn’t the only one donning flashy headgear.
Rene Shaft and Michelle Hoggard wore lime-green hats with flowers that Shaft had crotcheted so they and others in their group could keep track of one another.
That’s important because the outlet sale brings in 45,000 shoppers who peruse the tables filled with colorful goods. After loading up, they head to the sorting area or a place along the side to decide what their final purchases will be. What they put back into carts or bins are fair game for other shoppers.
Music played and attendees had chances to play a game at the center stage for a chance to win free products.
Vera Bradley won’t release how much it makes at the annual sale, but the event brings in $5 million to the local economy as shoppers go to restaurants or other businesses in Fort Wayne. It’s the largest event at the coliseum in terms of attendance.
This year the company had 600 VIP exclusive passes for $50, which includes premium parking and first admission. Those shoppers could follow the pink road to special checkout areas.
The sale at the coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave., requires tickets that cost $5 plus fees for timed sessions: 7:30-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 2:30-5 p.m. and 6-8:30 p.m. April 10-12. Shoppers attending the sale 8 a.m.-8 p.m. April 13 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 14 don’t need tickets.
The coliseum charges $6 for vehicle parking.