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Shoppers wait for hours to get a piece of Sahara

20 June 2011

By Lauren Emerson

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- With visions of mosaic glass in their heads, Las Vegas residents Andy and April Martello made one last bet at the Sahara.

As always, the odds favored the house.

The duo scored first place in line at the hotel-casino's liquidation sale with their 7 a.m. Thursday arrival. Three hours later, their wish to enter was granted, but they were denied their top desire, the S-shaped mosaic-glass doorknobs that once graced the hotel's front doors.

The knobs were sold out before the sale even began, snapped up by Las Vegas VIPs and former employees who were given an early pass.

"Being first in line didn't help in that regard," Andy said. "Ultimately, I can't complain. We had a great time."

Other shoppers might not have shared the Martellos' positive outlook.

The average wait to enter the sale -- in shade-free 100-degree-plus heat -- was three hours, said a Metropolitan Police Department officer on scene to prevent line jumping.

No more than 300 people were allowed in the building at any one time, with about 50 per hour allowed in.

Shoppers also faced a $10 admission charge and a 10 percent buyer's fee on each purchase.

Las Vegas native Zach Lerner wasn't impressed. He spent many nights playing $1 blackjack at the Sahara, so he and his friend, Chris Clifton, each bought a Sahara-logoed chair from their beloved table for $75.

He wasn't happy when he learned of the buyer's premium.

"The people who run this are absolutely terrible," Lerner said. "They did give out free water, though."

The outside line snaked from the Sahara's main entrance down to the valet area off Paradise Road, then down Paradise to just before the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

At about 1 p.m., after about two hours in line, former Sahara employee Darryl Clark wasn't sure he wanted to wait any longer. He worked at the hotel-casino for 11 years, and wanted to buy items for his wife from the House of Lords restaurant, where he was once the maitre d'.

"I didn't know it was going to be a three-hour wait," Clark grumbled.

More than 600,000 items such as dishes, posters, furniture, gaming equipment and kitchen tools from the 59-year-old Sahara, which closed May 16, are on the market. Liquidation is expected to take two months.

Shoppers on Thursday found that the casino floor was air-conditioned. Not so in the old guest rooms upstairs.

Brenda Shafer bought 30 desk chairs for use at First Choice Pregnancy Center in downtown Las Vegas. They were a deal at just $12 each, but she had to move them down to the lobby all by herself. Just seven or eight into the chore, she was paying full price in sweat and fatigue.

Joanna Roberts, project manager for Kevin's Delivery Service, was on hand to offer delivery for hire and had to call in more laborers after seeing so many shoppers such as Shafer in need of help just getting to the front door. Established in 2004, Roberts' company hadn't worked a Las Vegas hotel liquidation before.

"When I found out the Sahara was closing, that meant business for us," she said. "Not only is this a part of history, this is an opportunity for us to expand."

By 1 p.m., Kevin's Delivery Service had landed its first big job: Move 100 king-size mattresses from 100 Sahara guest rooms and deliver them to the Clarion Hotel, about a mile down the Strip. The work would take six to eight men two trips in a box truck, working against a 48-hour deadline, Roberts said. The company lists mattress and box-spring delivery at $50 a unit.

Watching buyers struggle to unglue, unbolt and disassemble their new treasures inspired Roberts to think of more services she might offer, for a price.

One woman bought a queen-size picture of The Beatles glued to the wall in the House of Lords restaurant, only to learn that no one was going to help her get it unstuck.

Frantic, she called two family members to help. Upon arrival, the two burly men simply stared at the poster, holding useless electric drills and other tools.

"What am I supposed to do with that?' one asked in frustration.

"We sell everything as is, where is," said Don Hayes, who is overseeing the sale for National Content Liquidators.

That included a sad reminder of what the hotel's closure meant to its hundreds of employees. A small shadowbox on a wall near the kitchen displayed photos and names of five former employees -- likely the Sahara's very last "Smile Award Winners."

It's yours for just $5.

Nearby, Las Vegas resident Jenna Arciola was walking briskly toward the checkout line while shouting "Come on, you've got to keep up" to a man she met just two hours before and had enlisted to help find the very best of the desk-top camel lamps, which were selling for $150.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do with it because it's really ugly," Arciola said of the lamp, which she planned to give to her boyfriend, Kevin. "I better get proposed to after this."

Empty-handed in her wake was Dave Lacey, who came to the sale from Corona, Calif., with his buddy Chuck Lane.

Lacey and Lane hadn't come looking for anything specific, though Lane said he might like to find a doorknob or some other bit of decor that he might use as the head of a walking cane. But after wandering among the piles of old telephones, power strips and clothing irons for more than an hour, he still was empty-handed.

"Things are overpriced here,' he said with a laugh, apparently just enjoying the show.

The sale will run 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

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