Ladies, lock and load.
It’s coming up on hunting season, but instead of ammo and camo, it’s cash and credit. The quilted quarry is thousands of purses, backpacks and suitcases at the annual Vera Bradley Outlet Sale in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The blow-out sale is as old as the Hoosier company itself, back to 1982 when Patricia R. Miller and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard first starting cutting out fabric on a ping-pong table.
The sale that started in a quaint tent with some seasonal leftovers has morphed into mountains of merchandise that cover nearly three football fields. Last year, it took 77 trailers to deliver the goods, which were hunted down by 60,000 dead-eye shoppers.
The sale takes over the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum April 10–14, but registration is open now. Serious shoppers pay $5 to corner a two and a half hour time frame at the sale, vying with up to 3,300 adversaries for the best buys. But unregistered shoppers can pop in the final two days of the sale, sign up on site and take their chances.
Of course, Vera Bradley is an acquired addiction. Some women collect every item in their favorite patterns, while others go for the eclectic look, mixing patterns like flowers in an English country garden.
The outlet sale is all about overstock and retired patterns, so you won’t find Spring ’13 styles anywhere—unless you catch the free shuttle from the coliseum to Jefferson Pointe shopping center and prowl the Vera Bradley shop there. But outlet prices can run 40 percent to 60 percent off, so most bargainistas are just fine with the trade-off.
Every sharpshooting shopper can use some tips, tested by veterans. Here are a few to improve the hunt.
- Register at VeraBradley.com, and, if you want to shop during the early ticketed days, buy your ticket through Ticketmaster. Follow the anticipation on Facebook and Twitter. As soon as you lock in your shopping day and time, check the local hotels at VisitFortWayne.com.
- Arm yourself with a list. It can be overwhelming to face acres of patterns stretching to the horizon line, so if you’re determined to holiday shop in April, a nailed-down list can keep you focused. Before you pack for Fort Wayne, you might want to ask recipients about their faves.
- Invite a girlfriend, or several, along to talk with as you wait in line, and once inside, to offer design advice. If they’re really generous, they may help you tote your overstuffed pink plastic trash bag up to the cash register. Pack your cell phones and pick a meeting spot for the post-bargain rendezvous.
- There are shopping limits: $3,500 for the duration of the sale. VB takes Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, checks and cash. You’ll need registration to shop and a valid photo ID to check out.
- Wear comfy shoes and carry a hands-free bag. Yes, it seems obvious, but three hours into the hunt, it makes a difference.
- Parking at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave. on the north side of Fort Wayne, is $4 per car and $12 per bus. The preferred lot is $8 per car.
Yes, there is life beyond quilted cotton. Fort Wayne has the largest public genealogical library in the U.S. at the Allen County Public Library; the librarians are eager to help you research your kin.
The TinCaps Minor League baseball team will be playing in Parkview Field downtown. “Orlando” will be on stage at the Williams Theatre of the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
VisitFortWayne.com also has the latest on the restaurant scene, from steaks to Cajun to Italian—and don’t miss DeBrand Chocolates for a bar or two of bliss for the road.
After a full assault on Vera Bradley bargains, hunters can slam up against quilt fatigue. But most happily recover to tote their treasures home, share their bounty and plan for next year’s outlet attack.