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Queuing Up for Bargains : British Shoppers Have a Post-Holiday Spree

December 29, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — Tens of thousands of bargain hunters jammed London's shopping district Monday to snap up televisions, china, crystal, rugs and other holiday leftovers marked down in traditional post-Christmas sales.

The City, London's financial district, was a ghost town. But department store-lined Oxford and Regent streets were rife with parcel-laden bargain hunters.

After one of the busiest pre-Christmas shopping sprees that retailers could recall, Londoners still appeared to have cash or credit to spare. Hundreds queued up in unseasonably warm weather for hours--and in one case, days--waiting for stores to fling open their doors.

"This is the busiest we've ever been," said Catherine Dighton, spokeswoman for the Liberty & Co. store on Regent Street.

And the granddaddy of the winter sales, at Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, doesn't begin until Jan. 6.

British retailers mark down prices only twice a year, after Christmas and in August, when they are usually a hefty one-third to one-half off.

Waited Nine Days

The 1,000 people waiting outside the Liberty store were serenaded by the Brick Memorial High School Mustang Band from Brick Township, N.J. The band, plus majorettes and pompon girls, is in town for the annual New Year's Day parade through the city's shopping district.

One shopper, 21-year-old Straun Kerr of Dumfries, Scotland, camped on the pavement outside Debenhams department store on Oxford Street for nine days to raise money for the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Children in Need Appeal.

Kerr, who took donations from passers-by, was the first shopper through the doors and grabbed a 26-inch television set reduced to just $19 from $560.

Worth the Sacrifice

He said he would donate the set to the charity fund. Debenhams responded by giving him back his $19 to add to the hundreds he had collected.

"It was worth missing Christmas for," said Kerr.

Of the hundreds of people who waited outside the huge Selfridges Ltd. store on Oxford Street--the first arriving at 4:30 a.m.--most headed for bargains in the china, glass and crystal departments.

The line for one cash register wound all the way through the china department, past silverware and curled around shelves of pots and pans in kitchenware.

Most customers waited patiently, pushing large cardboard boxes or plastic bins full of fine bone china along the floor as the line inched forward.

One woman and her daughter from New Jersey, still about 30 customers away from the cashier, said they had been waiting for more than an hour after spending an hour struggling through crowds selecting their china.

The pair, who did not want to give their names, said they flew in overnight specifically for the sales and stopped at their hotel only long enough to drop off their luggage.

Traffic Duty

At Liberty, a Japanese woman spent two hours having 357 yards of dress fabric measured and cut, said Dighton, adding that the fabric, at 50% off, cost the woman $3,571.20 and will make about 100 outfits.

Every store was patrolled by security guards, and at Liberty several were assigned traffic duty, unsuccessfully trying to route people in one-way streams.

Outside, streets were so packed that police erected barricades here and there, turning over a lane to pedestrians. Where there were no barricades, pedestrians claimed the streets anyway.

In Birmingham in central England, police closed the city center to all traffic but buses and taxis to accommodate shoppers. Police said they feared emergency vehicles would get stuck in the traffic.

Retailers speculated that this year's large crowds are due, in part, to the fact the sales began on the Boxing Day holiday.

Boxing Day, usually the day after Christmas when "boxes" or gifts of money were traditionally given to servants and tradesmen, fell on a Saturday this year so the bank holiday was held over to Monday.

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