As many Hoosier women already know, Fort Wayne-headquartered Vera Bradley manufactures quilted bags of all shapes, sizes and patterns; accessories, stationery and lots of other fun stuff. Even if the brand name isn’t familiar, most folks quickly recognize a Vera Bradley product on sight. These popular and colorful products seem to pop up everywhere you look — on college campuses, in airports, walking down the street.
The women who love Vera Bradley are steadfastly loyal in their devotion, to say the least. I must admit, I wasn’t really a VB fan, that is, until my first trip to the annual outlet sale two years ago. I’d always thought the bags were cute, but little did I know about the sheer range of additional inventory to consider. Coin purses, pretty desk sets and notecards, grocery shopping totes, garment bags, curling iron covers, lipstick cases, aprons, pajamas, sunglasses… oh my goodness. The list goes on seemingly forever. It’s nearly overwhelming. And, even if you’re not shopping for yourself, the sale presents a prime opportunity to stock up on items to give as gifts throughout the year.
The outlet sale takes place each April at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, and the day after it ends, women start planning ahead for next year’s event. This is serious business. Over the course of four days, the whole shebang attracts something like 60,000 attendees from 49 states and a handful of foreign countries to Fort Wayne, pumping several million dollars into the local economy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the sale discounts start at 40 percent off the first day and increase incrementally throughout the event. Heck, by Sunday, they’re practically giving the stuff away.
Let’s be clear, though. Lest you think you’re going to come in here and snag all the latest styles and patterns at half price, you’re not. This sale is meant to move inventory that has been discontinued and items with very minor flaws, but don’t dismay. There’s still more than enough here to make Vera fans feel like they’ve died and gone to quilted bag heaven.
Here’s how it works: you enter the expo hall, grab your big pink trash bag and off you go. Shoppers troll the aisles, grabbing a wristlet here, a hipster there. When you’ve gathered your stash, you retire to the perimeter of the room to sort your loot, discarding anything you don’t want into a waiting bin which, when full, is rolled behind the scenes so that the discarded items can be sorted and restocked.
In 2011, shoppers registered ahead for timed slots, keeping the lines down and the hall more orderly than during my first visit in 2010. Please note, though, that many of these women are still shopping on a mission and you’ll want to observe respectful etiquette and a sense of decorum. God forbid you happen to try to grab the last large duffel bag just as they’re reaching for it at the same time.
There’s an interesting camaraderie that occurs among the VB fans, and that’s all part of the fun. During the sale, you’ll cross paths with women all over town proudly toting their new purchases (automatic conversation starters) and swapping stories about the sale. A couple gals stopped me in the elevator at my hotel to admire one of my new totes, asking questions about the pattern that I’m afraid I couldn’t answer. As I exited and the doors closed behind me, I could practically hear them snickering to themselves, “Ha! Rookie!”
If you’re into Vera Bradley merchandise, you should definitely try to get here for the annual sale. Like the Indy 500 or Mardi Gras, it’s the kind of thing everyone should see and experience at least once. Bring your sister, your mom, your daughter or a couple of friends along for the ride and make a weekend of it. With all the great attractions, lodging and restaurants to visit in Fort Wayne, it’s easy to round out a fun weekend visit. Just make sure to book your reservations early or you very well may not be able to get a hotel room.
The date for this year is April 11-13 (tickets required), open public April 14-15. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit them online.