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Sale-Savvy Shoppers Swarm Abt

March 10, 2009


If you'd never been to one of Abt's big private sales before Saturday, you might think the economy had made a full recovery and was making up for lost time.

Cars were streaming in and out past the big "customer appreciation day" banner in front of 1200 Milwaukee Ave., Glenview, despite a driving rain. And inside, hundreds of people were buying things.

And not just things they could tuck under an arm. Shoppers were buying stoves. And refrigerators. And big TVs.

But Marc Cook knows better. "We're not at the point I like to see it," said the general manager of the store as shoppers milled around him.

"I like it when all you can hear is a low electronic hum that seems to come from everywhere.

"But it's nice to be able to look down an aisle and not see the other end of it. So I'm not entirely unhappy with this."

There are probably a lot of retailers who would give their eyeteeth to see crowds of people with money in their fists, even if they weren't humming.

Most of Abt's weekend shoppers were drawn by thousands of letters mailed to regular customers, outlining big discounts for one of the store's thrice-annual private sales. Some seemed happy and relieved to be finally buying something they wanted.

"I don't want to be one of those people who take their money and put it in the mattress," said Dave Marion, as he waited for his 37-inch TV -- $175 off -- to be brought out. The Palatine man grinned and wiggled his fingers together, Scrooge-like.

Then he shrugged. "We're in the middle of a recession. But the TV went out. I have to get another one. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it."

Mike Gottschalk of Chicago also got a good deal on a TV, 32 inches of screen for less than $600. But the best part seemed to be the financing: no interest for 12 months.

"You get a TV free for a year," he said. "Can't beat it."

Financing is easier than one would expect, the company's Mike Abt said. "Before this (the recession) all started, about 86 percent were getting approved," he said. "Now, it's about 83."

Some people, however, are getting approved for less money, he added. And that's probably not a terrible thing, because customers, he said, are spending less, anyway.

He noted that Pioneer Electronics, which he considers to be one of the finest -- but not the cheapest -- plasma TV manufacturers, announced in February that it will get out of the business next year.

"With TVs, it's not so fashionable to buy the best anymore," Abt said.

West Dundee's Gary Anderson priced five major GE appliances -- stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer and microwave -- for $5,093. He said he was torn and would take the figures home to talk to his wife about them.

Does he worry about making such a large purchase in a recession? Is he confident in his job security?

"I work for The Citi," he said. "What does that tell you?"

Last week, Citigroup's stock price dropped too low to qualify for a place on Burger King's value menu.

Adrienne Scheinbrenner and her husband once bought a whole kitchen worth of appliances from Abt and were pleased with the price and service. But Saturday, she headed out of the store without the dishwasher she came in for.

"I'm going to Sears," she said.

"They might have a better price. And if they do, Abt will match it.

"You've got to be careful. It's not like buying a pair of shoes."

© Copyright 2009 Digital Chicago, Inc.