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It's a bare market

Cheryl Pollard stood in the long line at Dillard's on Wednesday holding an odd array of purchases: a canister of shredded packing material, a bag of potpourri, a package of clear plastic gift envelopes and a small wooden stand whose original use she couldn't quite pinpoint.

"I'm not sure what it is, but I think I'm going to cover it with fabric and make it into a book stand or maybe a candle holder," said Pollard, 49, rotating the object in her hands. "I just came in search of some bargains."

Pollard was feeling a bit nostalgic as she rummaged around at the store in Pinellas ParkSide mall, now a nearly stripped shell.

"This place was very good to me," said Pollard, who retired from her job at the store about a decade ago. "I have a lot of great memories here."

She was one of hundreds who showed up for the first day of Dillard's garage sale-style liquidation. One of the last department store anchors at ParkSide to shut down, Dillard's is on a mission to get rid of everything _ right down to the shelves the merchandise once sat on, lighting systems, and signs and pictures on the walls.

While clothes and other merchandise were being sold for 80 percent off on the first floor, upstairs customers could negotiate a price on furniture, equipment and fixtures. Commercial showcases that once cost $3,400 sold for $150, $1,000 shelving units were picked up for $75 and $350 clothing racks sold for $25.

"Altogether this stuff is worth a fortune," said Rick Lertzman, whose Cleveland company, AM Asset, handles Dillard's liquidations. "We have a range of prices in mind, but we're willing to make deals, especially for people who are buying in large quantities."

The line snaked around the length of the store as bargain hunters piled up squares of glass, industrial vacuum cleaners, fake plants, tables and drills. Carl Werme plotted how to turn the torsos of two mannequins into a conversation piece coffee table, while others tried to figure out how well display shelves would work as an entertainment center. Some people even strolled into managers' offices and wheeled out unneeded office chairs.

Tensions ran high as customers wandered the floor hoping fellow shoppers were actually knowledgeable sales people in disguise. With only one checkout point, many waited in line for more than an hour, hoping to haggle a good price on the items they had picked out.

"Okay, we're not moving your stuff anymore," said one woman, a mannequin's torso tucked under her arm. She was irritated that the woman ahead of her kept ducking out of line to grab more display racks. "Move it or lose it," she said.

Christina Anderson, 20, was in the store helping her mother-in-law pick out display cases and racks for her small business in Pinellas Park, Scrapbook Heaven.

"We're expanding, so we can really use these to put stamps and other products on," said Anderson, pushing forward a cart stacked taller with furniture than she was. "This is a lot cheaper than we could go out and buy this stuff for new."

Rene Williams, 45, was shopping for the boss. She snagged a box of hangars so the St. Petersburg decor warehouse where she works could display more products on the wall instead of in boxes.

Williams would rather not see the mall go, but hopes the tradeoff will be worth it when the mall is torn down and a new outdoor shopping center is constructed.

"I think it'll be good if it doesn't take too long for them to build it," she said. "Tyrone Mall is way too big, so I prefer to come to Pinellas to shop."

The sale continues daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the store is picked clean, which Lertzman expects to take through the weekend. For weary sales associates, an empty building cannot come quickly enough.

"We have no idea how much any of this stuff costs," said part-time saleswoman Tammy Barthlett, 21. "I just point them in the direction of the guys with clipboards."

Barthlett, who has been coming to the mall since she was a toddler, was saddened when the closeout sales began, but lately she's been too busy for sentiment.

"Dillard's is such a classy company, so it's weird to see it all in disarray like this," said Barthlett, a broadcast student at the University of South Florida. "But everything is so crazy in here, we'll just all be happy when it's over."

_ Benita Newton can be reached at bnewtonsptimes.com or (727) 893-8318.

At the Dillard's liquidation at Pinellas ParkSide mall Wednesday, Carl Werme contemplates the notion of a coffee table with mannequin torsos as pedestals. Werme said he could "put a nice piece of plexiglass on top.It sure would be different."

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