The words "sample sale" don't always evoke positive associations: Oftentimes the sales are filled with aggressive shoppers and long lines — not to mention the very real possibility that, without an exclusive friends-and-family invitation, all of the great merchandise will be gone before the doors even open. And yet we keep going back for more in the hopes we'll score something truly special. But here's a secret that lets you avoid all the drama: There’s a sample sale very few people know about, and it's figured out how to guard against the sample sale's number-one fun-ruiner: other New Yorkers. In 2011, Manolo Blahnik USA began holding a sample sale in Litchfield, CT, the likes of which couldn’t even be rivaled by Carrie Bradshaw’s wildest dreams. Not only are George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis (Manolo Blahnik president and vice president, respectively) fashion icons and excellent businessmen, but they’re also farmers. (Maybe you’ve heard of their recent rise to foodie fame?) In a brilliant effort to help support students in the agricultural industry, they decided to combine the two things they know best — shoes and farms — and host a sale, with all the proceeds going toward an agricultural scholarship. After the first one was (unsurprisingly) an overwhelming success, it’s become a secret local tradition and an enormous educational fundraiser.
This sample sale is practically the opposite of those you'll find in NYC. Instead of a rented warehouse space, they opened this year's sale at a firehouse. Instead of competitive strangers chomping at the bit while waiting in line, friendly neighbors sat in lawn chairs wearing flannel and sharing coffee out of canteens. The earliest to arrive were UConn supporters at 4:30 a.m., hoping to contribute to the proceeds, which this year would go toward paying tuition for the university’s agricultural students. And the best part is that when the doors opened 45 minutes early, there was a selection of thousands of shoes that, in SoHo, would have all been gone in 15 minutes. There were suede sandals, patent pumps, and over-the-knee boots at deep 90%-off discounts. At the end of the day, I surfaced with two gorgeous pairs of shoes for $150 each instead of $1,500 total. What's even better: Malkemus and Yurgaitis raised more than $200,000 in financial aid. If this sounds like it's up your alley, mark your calendars now — there are rumors of another sample sale in November at the University of Connecticut campus.