ST. PETERSBURG – Once a year, Kay Leonard dons her furry white rabbit slippers and goes shopping.
They're her go-to footwear for St. Petersburg's annual Sunrise Sale, which celebrated its 40th installment Thursday.
Leonard arrived at dawn for the start of the sale along with dozens of shoppers in silk pajamas, floral robes, and sleep shorts.
Her painted red toenails peeked out of the front of her slippers as she looked through a glass kaleidoscope in Shapiro's Gallery. By 8:30 a.m., Leonard had to be at MacDill Air Force Base for work. But she would never miss the Sunrise Sale.
"You can run fast with rabbit shoes on," she said.
The event boasts doorbuster deals at several participating shops and eateries, including Bruce Watters Jewelers and Kilwins. Matt Shapiro, co-owner of Shapiro's Gallery, said his business was offering 20 percent off until 10 a.m.
Yellow pennants and balloons guided the way, and the Downtown Looper Trolley offered free rides for early shoppers. The Downtown Business Association organized the event.
It was built in part around a 1970s theme, and some visitors wore tie-dye shirts.
Linda Miller, of St. Petersburg, arrived in pink pajamas with her friend Janis Froelich. She said she woke before dawn and took off her pajamas, only to don a clean pair for shopping.
"It's fun," she said. "Life is short, you got to go for it."
Some visitors were more shy about their informal get-up, casting their eyes down sheepishly as they passed on the sidewalk.
When approached by a reporter, a man in Ohio State University pajamas put his head down and walked away briskly.
Morgan Youngerman and Sarah Rieth, both students at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, were reluctant to talk at first.
They awoke at 6:30 a.m. to visit the sale. The sheets were still calling at 7 a.m.
Asked for the last time she was up so early, Rieth laughed and said, "Never."
But soon the laughter turned to giggling, and it didn't stop. The girls held plates with fresh slices of cake – the perfect antidote to early morning drowsiness.
They were ready to press on. Not to shop, they said, but to gawk at strangers in pajamas.
Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804. Twitter: @zacksampson.