NEWELL - If the Homer Laughlin China Co.'s semiannual Tent Sale is any indication, Fiesta's place on America's dinner tables is secure.
People came from as far away as Texas, Nebraska and Michigan on Thursday for the opening day of the fall Tent Sale, which saw approximately 1,000 people queue up for deep discounts on Fiesta dinnerware.
"It's all I use," said Nancy McDaniel, of New Boston, Texas. "I have other dishes, but I use the Fiesta. ... We like all the pretty colors."
TENT SALE — Bargain hunters queue up for the Homer Laughlin China Co.’s semiannual Tent Sale on Thursday. An estimated 1,000 shoppers from as far away as Texas were expected on the first day of the three-day sale. Some had been camping at Clarke Field since Monday. -- Stephen Huba
McDaniel and her husband, David, come to just about every Tent Sale - in June and October - and usually take away enough stuff to fill a 30-foot trailer. On Thursday, they left with $10,000 worth of Fiesta, first- and second-quality, in their pickup truck.
Like so many Tent Sale regulars, the McDaniels don't think twice about traveling long distances to get half off, or more, on their favorite Fiesta colors and shapes.
"That's the main reason we come," Nancy McDaniel said. "You find a wide variety, and sometimes something unusual."
McDaniel said the Tent Sale also is a time to see old friends - other regulars who come from Florida, Connecticut, Tennessee, Alabama and elsewhere.
"It's kind of fun to come back and talk to them and visit with them," she said.
The McDaniels have been coming to the Tent Sale since 1999, although their use of Fiesta dates back to 1986, the year Homer Laughlin reintroduced the popular design with contemporary colors.
Carmen Steffen, 42, of Hartington, Neb., a newcomer to the Tent Sale, had that glazed look in her eyes on Thursday as she sorted through dinner plates and filled up another plastic crate.
"It's amazing," she said, jockeying for position among the other shoppers.
Steffen said she learned about the Tent Sale from friends in Toronto, Ohio, whom she visited this week. She has a couple Fiesta pieces at home and was hoping to get a good deal on some place settings.
Amy Hogan, of Lake Orion, Mich., came with her mother, Mary Jo Donofrio, on Thursday for her third Tent Sale, partly to replace a Fiesta butter dish broken by her Great Dane.
"I'm buying Christmas presents," Hogan said. "Plus some people in my office asked me to pick up some pieces, so I'm stocking up. I always like to get the new colors that come out."
Hogan said her latest favorite color is Peacock, a bright blue introduced in 2005.
"Who needs china when you can have Fiesta?" she said.
For Homer Laughlin, one of largest employers in the Tri-State Area, the three-day Tent Sale is a form of controlled chaos that pays dividends beyond the extra cash registers needed.
Community good will is generated when charities benefit from the Fiesta gift basket drawing, said Dan Williams, Homer Laughlin director of marketing. This year, the charities are: the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern West Virginia, Court Appointed Special Advocates, and the Hancock County Animal Shelter.
Tickets are $5 each, and the prize is a $500 gift basket of Fiesta dinnerware. Proceeds from the drawing will be split evenly three ways, Williams said.
Homer Laughlin also donates money to churches and other non-profit organizations that provide volunteer labor for the Tent Sale, in addition to employing college students over those three days.
Nathan Schonhut, 26, of East Liverpool, spent about 12 hours on Thursday collecting milk crates, packing crates and helping customers.
"We do a little bit of everything; whatever they ask us to do," he said. "It's crazy."
Schonhut is studying computer technology at the East Liverpool campus of Kent State University and learned about the job opportunity from a bulletin board notice.
Bargain hunters started arriving for this year's fall sale as early as Monday, camping out at Clarke Field. Shoppers form a line near the end of Fiesta Drive, many of them equipped with dollies or wagons. Each is given a ticket, which helps "preserve a sense of order" and provides Homer Laughlin with an accurate count, Williams said.
Seventy-five people are permitted to approach the tent at a time. A gatekeeper then takes the tickets, spacing out the shoppers so the tent doesn't get too crowded.
"It works out for a lot of folks that come to the Tent Sale because they're able to get these items that normally would go for much higher prices," Williams said.
The Tent Sale was founded about 20 years ago by Pat Shreve, manager of the Outlet Store, as a way to dispose of second-quality Fiesta dinnerware, Williams said. Originally attached to the Clay Festival in Newell, it now is a much-anticipated, stand-alone event.
"What we do at the Tent Sale is clear out all the items that don't meet first-quality standards," Williams said. "If there is so much as a discoloration at the bottom of a cup, that won't meet our quality standards. ... A lot of folks take a look at our seconds and say, 'I don't see anything wrong with this at all.'"
Some try, though. Many shoppers can be seen wearing gloves as they handle the dinnerware, looking for flaws.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, children will be able to participate in a Paint-a-Plate event in which they decorate a piece of pottery and have it fired at the Homer Laughlin plant.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)