Generally speaking, I’m not a shopping person. But one day of the year, I make an exception: Dillard’s, Oak Park Mall, New Year’s Day.
True shopping professionals know this day, this venue well. It’s a one-day sale that gives the Overland Park fire marshal atrial fibrillation. Metcalf South may be home to nothing more than nostalgic ruminations, but Oak Park Mall is thriving. And on this day, it’s booming.
My introduction to this tradition began a couple years ago. On New Year’s Day I opened The Kansas City Star, saw a full-page ad, inspected it carefully, blinked a couple times, showed it to my wife and got confirmation — an extra 50 percent off the stock of reduced merchandise for pretty much everything except perfume that will make you gag, handbags that incite skin rashes and compression underwear that makes you look skinny because you can’t inhale.
That year I headed out the door, wallet securely in my zipper coat pocket, running shoes tightly knotted, phone charged.
Twenty minutes later I walked in the south end of the Oak Park Mall, prepared to employ sharp elbows as necessary. The place was near empty. Tables largely barren; racks of clothes with empty hangers as if a mob grabbed jackets during a tsunami. There were a few people still there, walking, dazed, confused, unhappy.
I had not simply missed a sale. I missed an event. For the next 364 days I waited.
It would be wrong to compare it to Black Friday, or as I call it, BF. BF has loss leaders on exclusive merchandise that kids crave and whose moms are determined to spoil. The ads contain disclaimers in 48-point type: “limited quantities.” BF draws the kind of shopper who flunked the Dale Carnegie course and then got in a fistfight with Dale himself.
The Dillard’s shopper is polite, patient and savvy — and this kind of sale welcomes the nuanced consumer, the kind who compares and contrasts a red/blue striped Cremieux tie against a Roundtree & York while evaluating the subtle hues of royal/sapphire. Less shopping and more evaluating, scrutinizing, pondering.
By midmorning the parking lot resembled Arrowhead. I followed a steady stream of customers, walking at a brisk pace but hardly rushing. My goal: Get my dad a couple cashmere sweaters, inspect the tables for a few quality bowties and maybe jump at a few impulse buys.
I walked in through the ladies department at the north end of the mall. The shoe department had set up 30-foot tables — I counted 11 — stacked with women’s shoes. It was as if I walked into an estate sale for Imelda Marcos. Think Zappos meets “Housewives of Orange County” with shoes of endless shapes, sizes, styles all cast about, some single shoes — especially — for some reason — long black boots — lying on the floor, mingled with countless empty boxes, many of which were once home to black ballet flats, nude pumps and brown ankle booties with fake fur.
Dillard’s, Visa and many, many women were having a very good day.
At the south end of Oak Park, I settled on some sweaters, ties and a $10 Dopp kit.
On the seasonal table, I found a perfect gift for my MU friends who are rather fanatical about their new league. This was something called the “SEC Game Day” board game, plastered with shooting stars, a helmet, football and touted as “the ultimate football board game.” School logos decorate the packaging, with — breaking news — Missouri?
Touted as a “strategy game for savvy fans” what it lacked was an appropriate pricing strategy. Dillard’s fixed that — now priced at 65 percent off.
Upon further inspection, I noted it might be perfect for a KU fan, as a white elephant gift. You see, on the back of the game, it notes in bold lettering: “Warning: Choking hazard.” Sold.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes on the first and third Wednesday of the month. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.