NEWELL - For some, it's the rich colors. Others laud its durability and versatility. And everybody loves the fact that Fiesta ware, the flagship product of Homer Laughlin China Co., is made in America.
"They're great dishes," said Steve Scallan, a Newell resident, as he loaded boxes into the back of his pickup. "People love them, and they're collectible, too. They're heavy, they're durable and they're American made."
Scallan and his wife were among scores of Fiesta aficionados from around the country who waited in line, some for hours, for a chance to go bargain shopping at Homer Laughlin's three-day summer tent sale, one of two the company holds each year.
LOOKING FOR ITEMS — Ron Gifford of Davenport, Fla., and Dave McDaniels of New Boston, Texas, sort through dozens of brightly colored Fiesta ware bowls. -- Linda Harris
On Thursday morning, opening day of the sale, pottery employees distributed 500 numbered tickets to early bird shoppers, most of whom camped out overnight to make sure they were in the first groups admitted to the tent. Late arrivals gathered at the end of the line, chatting quietly as they waited in 90-degree heat for their chance to move toward the front.
At the 90-minute mark, one guard said the person at the front of the line was holding Ticket No. 360. Another guessed there were at least 750 Fiesta buyers already on the property. Inside the tent, pottery workers were kept busy checking customers out and "constantly restocking bins," Marketing Director Dan Williams said.
By the end of Day 1, Williams said upward of 1,200 people had gone through the line.
"It's fantastic for us," he said. "Being able to see folks here year after -year is fantastic, and it's a boost for the local economy as well."
Williams said roughly 4,500 dozen pieces of Fiesta were sold on Day 1. "That works out to just over 50,000 pieces," he said. "It seems to be going pretty good."
The ground rules: Each sale-goer had to have a ticket to get into the tent. Once inside, each could fill four crates before having to check out.
Once they'd been through the tent and checked out, many circled back to the end of the line for another crack at the tent sale.
Nancy McDaniels of New Boston, Texas, has been coming to Homer Laughlin's tent sales for nearly two decades. This time around she brought her daughter and son-in-law, both teachers, as well as her husband, Dave.
"We've been here since Sunday night," she said. "It's good for the community - most of these people stay here, they eat here. It helps the community, too, to have the tent sale."
McDaniels figures before it's all said and done she'll spend as much as $10,000 -maybe even $15,000 - on Fiesta ware alone. She said she'd already spent $5,000 in the company's retail store before the tent sale started.
"I called my credit card company last night to tell them I'd be making multiple charges today, not to worry about it," McDaniels said. "And even the woman that I talked to knew about it, said she wished she could be here."
McDaniel said she'll keep some of her buys for herself. The rest she'll resell in the Dallas area.
"There aren't many Fiesta dealers there," explained another collector, Shellie Roach, of Canton, Texas. "There's demand."
Roach, accompanied by her sister-in-law, brother and mother, figured to make between $10,000 and $12,000 in Fiesta buys. About 60 minutes into the sale she already had eight crates on the dolly she and her sister-in-law were pushing, and eight more on one being managed by her brother and mother.
"And we're getting back in line to come back and do it again," she said. "We'll be here all day, as long as we have money."
Fiesta, she says, is "a wonderful product. Every piece is ovenproof, dishwasher proof and microwave proof." That means that in addition to using pieces for their intended purpose, you can experiment with other uses.
"Those little teacups, you can make blueberry muffins in them," she said. "I have a pizza tray that I also use when I make meatloaf or cookies, and I'll turn it over and serve cake on it. It's so very versatile, and the colors are (amazing). Probably 90 percent of the customers don't do one color, they mix colors. And it's made in America, that's a big plus. The public is so tired of buying overseas, they really are."
Sarah Gifford, a 15-year-old from Davenport, Fla., was at the sale with her parents. No one under 16 is allowed in the tent, however, so to keep busy, and with her parents' backing, she started a cart rental business a couple years ago.
"I can't go in the tent, so this is what we do," she said. "We've always sold carts at antique shows. When we came here, I noticed people didn't have their own carts and were always fighting over the company's carts, so I figured, why not rent carts to them? My mother, especially, likes the idea of making money while she's spending money."
It's a pretty lucrative three days: the carts, which rent for $10 a day each, are in high demand. She has 40 to rent out.
Inside the tent her father, Ron, was elbow-deep as he sorted through a bin filled with brightly colored bowls. Digging through the same bin was Nancy McDaniels' husband, Dave, with whom he'd struck up a friendship.
"We're here because we have wives that love Fiesta ware," he joked. "It's like they say, 'Happy Wife, Happy Life.' I took some of these over and asked her if she liked them, she said yeah - go get more."