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$6.2M In Rebate Money Gobbled Up In 11 Hours

ENERGY-EFFICIENT APPLIANCES | Customers Go Wild For Energy Rebate Program


April 17, 2010

It's not often people line up at 4 a.m. to buy a refrigerator.

Then again, it's not often the government offers 15 percent rebates on appliances.

Retailers throughout the Chicago area reported long lines and booming sales as customers proved eager Friday to take advantage of the federal stimulus program, which states administered, offering rebates to consumers buying energy-efficient appliances, such as refrigerators and clothes washers.

Customers gobbled up the $6.2 million in available rebate money in 11 hours, ending the program nine days before its scheduled close April 25.

Yet several retailers said Friday they will continue to offer their own discounts on energy-efficient appliances for limited periods.

On Friday, Sears stores opened early, at 6 a.m., expecting a crowd, and some shoppers arrived at 4 a.m. When the doors opened at Sears' Orland Square Mall store, more than 100 shoppers were lined up, but they couldn't take advantage of the rebates until the government program officially kicked off at 8 a.m.

"This is like Black Friday on steroids," Sears salesman Stan Dawson said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally among the biggest sales day of the year for retailers.

Doug Moore, president of Sears Home Appliances, said he had seen customers in the stores prior to the rebate day, writing down notes on appliances they had researched on the Sears Web site and intended to buy.

Moore said Sears had seen increased traffic on its Web site, on which it provided details about cost savings.

Sears is also offering an additional 30 percent price cut on qualifying Energy Star appliances for another eight days.

"We're doing 10 times the business. It is amazing," Dawson, of Oak Lawn, said.

Sears counted 130 customers lined up for the rebate at its Oak Brook store; 100 at Fox Valley in Aurora, and 60 each at West Dundee and at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

Record sales were reported by 78-year-old Plass Appliance, which has eight stores in the Chicago area, including one in Tinley Park.

"This is our best day ever. Outstanding. We knew it would be big, but this is better than our expectations," Bill Burn, director of sales for the chain, said.

Abt Electronics in Glenview had 1,000 people lined up outside. By 10:30 a.m., the 73-year-old business had set a record for appliance sales in a day.

Abt and retailers Home Depot and Lowe's said they would continue to offer their own discounts on qualifying appliances for periods ranging from a few days until late April.

David Vite, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said participating retailers, who will be reimbursed by the state, finished the day with total sales of $45 million. Vite credited the program's success in part to Illinois' decision to let retailers offer percentage-off instant rebates at the sales counter.

©2010 Sun-Times Media, LLC