Hello, my name is Wendy, and I was sucked into our local H&M grand opening event. It's not a proud nor a particularly glorious moment of mine, but I must accept my actions and recognize my foibles for they define me for who I am.

Roughly a year and a half ago we bid a fond farewell to our local Restoration Hardware. Though their change in style and adoption of oversized furniture that failed to fit in our hobbit sized home limited our purchases to the "few and very far between" variety, their store was always fun to stop in with Lulu for a break from the heat in summer, a respite from the cold in winter, or for a cozy place to rest our weary legs while "trying out" their oversized comfortable sofas.

After years of dwindling foot traffic, escalating rent, and the evolution of their catalogs that resemble something closer to a volume of World Book Encyclopedias than a home decor advertisement, they threw a blow out "up to 70% off" sale and finally shuttered their doors and directed their would be shoppers to the nearby Tyson's Corner and Georgetown locations. Oh the horror! We may never shop there again.

Soon after the RH closure we began speculating on the establishment that might replace RH. In such a large location, the possibilities were seemingly limitless.

Alex held out hope that some foolhardy rich person would have a love of bowling as deep as their Scrooge McDuck like money bin and would put in an alley. I knew this idea was about as likely as Alex finishing our bathroom before any new store opened, but I let him dream the dream.

I, on the other hand, hoped for a home decor-related venture, possibly a collection of local small businesses, with antiques and other eclectic assortments. Sadly, this was probably equally as likely as Alex's bowling alley idea. A girl can dream, can't she?

Instead, a massive renovation effort began, which included months of digging out the store's basement and rethinking the whole interior. As we watched from the street and speculation on anything from a new Apple store to a BBQ chain restaurant ran rampant, we finally learned the future of this coveted Old Town retail location on King Street from a commercial real estate friend of ours. Nestled among Anthropology, The Gap Outlet, and Banana Republic, the affordably priced fashion juggernaut of H&M would be opening an Old Town location.

While it probably goes without saying, I'd absolutely have preferred a local small business or boutique shop to go in this location, but the size of the space and the likely high rent pretty much sealed the deal on a larger retail chain.

Over the last few weeks we've watched as the finishing touches were put on the renovation and the store's interior begin to take shape. We'd sneakily snap photos when the workers would leave the front door open, and we'd speculate as to the opening date.

It's funny, we don't particularly care about H&M. After all, we're in our 30s, we're not hipsters, we can't wear ironic tees to work, I prefer somewhat conservative attire, and Alex prefers not to look like a 21st century version of Boy George. On the other hand, we still cared about the store and its Old Town opening, only because it's Old Town. This is a case where the location transcends the outlet.

In the days leading up to the Grand Opening event, rumblings of a customer oriented bash began swirling. Would they be offering discounts? Likely, but what else? Free clothes? Shopping sprees? Perhaps if a line formed they'd begin showering those dedicated shoppers with cash, cupcakes, puppies, lavish vacations, and all expense paid trips to visit their clothing factories in exotic locales like Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, Tunisia, and Cambodia? Or perhaps it would be reward enough to just hang with every other one of the high Euro fashion/low budget fans who would inevitably flock that way.

As curious onlookers on the way home from dinner the night before the opening, we walked past the front of the store and peered in the store's windows. Surely they'd be primping and prepping for the opening event, and perhaps we'd even get a sneak peek (like we've gotten with restaurant soft openings that are pretty much the coolest thing going on). What we actually got was a complete and utter shock! There, on the sidewalk, in a folding soft sided chair, surrounded by backpacks of supplies, and a look for budget Euro high fashion in his eyes, sat the first person in line waiting for the grand opening of the Old Town H&M...some 16 hours before the store's scheduled opening the following day.

We chatted for a few minutes and he seemed pretty up-beat. He was there with his girlfriend and they were ready for some hot deals. We wished him well and headed home. As we walked away from the store I believe I may have made some comments along the lines of "You couldn't pay me enough!" and "I mean, why stand in line for that?" Totally snotty of me, I know, but we're being honest here.

The next morning Alex passed by the store as he walked to the bus on the way to work. Wouldn't you know it, that two person "line" had grown overnight and now stretched down the block and around the corner. People had showed up throughout the night all in search of that elusive bargain. You can see from the photo that the legs and contorted bodies of restless sidewalk sleeping fans of free couture lined the sidewalk. 

Ironically, the line stretched in front of The Gap Outlet, who I'm sure probably saw similar fervor at some of its store openings in the 1980s as the "it" bargain brand of the decade. At the head of the line, the same BF/GF combo from the night before. They'd stuck it out through the cool night, and when Alex asked him how they were feeling, his response was still enthusiastic, yet groggy and slightly less upbeat than the previous evening, though I can't figure as to why.

As details began to emerge throughout the morning, it became more clear just what was at stake. Beyond the bragging rights of being the first group of people into a brand spanking new Euro-ish fashion outlet, something all participants will surely be tattooing on their shoulder blades and placing on their headstones below the ironic inscription of "I'm Gonna Live Forever!" H&M was planning on giving out shopping sprees to the first 100 people through the store. But what exactly did this shopping spree entail? Variability, that's what. Guests would receive between a $10 and $300 shopping spree at random. So your position in line did nothing to dictate the value of your spree, but at such budget prices, you could probably outfit yourself and your pets for roughly the cost of a moderate $20 gift.

I continued to poke fun and scoff at the idea of line sitting hysterics, instead opting to sit home and work like the adult that I am. Disgusted by the line of listless youths that I was sure now stretched for dozens of blocks in either direction, I donned my best "Hey you kids, get off my lawn!" look and ventured out of the house at noon...aka high noon...aka grand opening go time.

I left the house ready to laugh, point, and take photos of the human chain of fashionistas waiting to spend their hard earned money under the guise and promise of "free stuff." But as I rounded the corner, something strange started to happen to me that day. Some say, my heart grew three sizes.

The line wasn't nearly as long as I'd imagined, and somehow the sounds of a DJ spinning great 90s songs like 2 Legit 2 Quit instantly transformed my mentality. I knew the DJ was probably being twee and ironic in his song selection, playing something these kids would in no way recognize, but it became a siren song to my 30+ year old ears. Perhaps it was being played at a frequency that only old people, such as myself could hear, while the younger frequency was filled with Foster The People and Fun.? I couldn't tell you exactly what happened, but before I knew it, it was Hammer Time and I was squarely in line. 

There I stood, just after noon, at the grand opening for a store I couldn't have cared less about mere minutes earlier, waiting in line, among the sea of humanity, using my hand to "sign" the lyrics, 2 Legit...2 Legit 2 Quit...Woah woah!

Let me set the mood for you.

Among the hipster throngs of people, my shoes were trying so desperately to fit in. In spite of their valiant efforts, they, along with the rest of my outfit, were giving me away. I couldn't compete with the ironic hats, ill fitting yet surprisingly tight pants, layering so intentional that it appeared as if chaotically lifted from a thrift store turned nursing home. I was too old, too traditional, too routine, but the hipsters, with their love of perceived high fashion and hatred of all things establishment that were not high fashion, accepted me, if only for those fleeting line standing minutes. I became one with fashion. They had invaded my town, I had invaded their ways, we were all about to "invade" H&M while H&M was about to invade our wallets. 

I neared the door and quickly chatted with the security guard/retail bouncer, if only to quickly converse with someone closer to my age. We didn't have time to chat about the state of politics in the world today, or if we thought social security would still be around when we were ready to retire, we didn't have time, but our interaction helped to ground me before I entered the store. If not for this quick exchange I'm note entirely sure of the person that would have ultimately emerged. Perhaps feeling for me and my advanced age, or perhaps because it was simply his job and I've read too much into our vast and deep relationship, the guard handed me a $10 off coupon, then shot me a glance as I entered the store, as to say "don't lose yourself in there, be true to yourself, you'll see things in there you can't un-see, and you need to be ready for what's to come."

Taking the certificate, I nodded and proceeded through the gates into a world largely unknown to me and my Ann Taylor LOFT ways. Alex once took me to The Denim Bar in Arlington, where I had a mild meltdown in the store after trying on an ill fitting pair of $250 jeans, and I don't recall the three days that followed. I was taking my fashion life into virgin territory here, and I didn't know if I was ready. 

Glancing down at the coupon, the emaciated model stared back at me with nonchalant disgust. The thing she was wearing was only $19.95, and they were calling it a dress, but I'm relatively certain she couldn't afford pants and was simply going with the idea that her shirt was a dress. I'm certain her naughty bits would be clearly visible in that "dress" if she were standing, but that could also be because she's probably 6'2". But nonetheless, her chiseled cheek bones dared made not to find something that made me look so fabulous that I was overcome with disdain for all things around me, just like the dirty pixie in the photo that found herself simultaneously pensive and without thought.

Once inside it was surprisingly not the free-for-all I had envisioned. Don't get me wrong, it was loud and there were furious shoppers that were shopping furiously, but I had imagined a hair pulling debacle with people fighting over the last scarf and cardigan. There were no people throwing babies into others' arms in an effort to get them to drop their goods, no sales clerks attempting to lure you into their section with promises of "90% free" merchandise. I don't know why, but I apparently assumed it would be something more akin to a Middle Eastern bazaar, which is a strange thought since I just realized I've been into an H&M in at least six different countries (United States, Netherlands, Austria, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark). My life goal is apparently to visit an H&M on all seven continents rather than actually enjoying the sights. 

Okay, ready for my crotchety old lady take on the grand opening of H&M? It might help to picture me with gray hair, wrinkly skin, wearing a muumuu with a ruffled neck (but a properly fitting one, not one that a hipster might wear), and yelling about "all of the kids in here with no respect." Here goes. 

It was loud! There was music blaring and it was annoying. The music was good, which complicated my emotional response, an eclectic mix of 90s "classics" and current, so I liked that, but it was so loud. DJ EZ Stylez was spinning the jams at the front of the store and keeping the crowd pumped. (That wasn't really his name, but I thought it sounded about right, so I went with it) And all of the kids were grabbing their threads from the racks (do kids still call them "threads" today?) and heading to the dressing rooms that I feared may have been a communal area where all of the skinny bodies were trying on clothing and complimenting each other on their chiseled abs and cellulite-free legs. 

I was able to scrounge up six items of clothing, a pair of shoes, and a necklace, and apprehensively headed to the dressing room, aka, hell with mirrors. Though we did get individual rooms, this is where the wheels started to come off of my high fashion car. My day had started so innocently, with no thoughts of venturing near H&M other than to mock those foolish enough to stand in line, perhaps while sipping a latte of some sort. Now, with a hot $10 off ticket burning a hole in my pocket, I found myself standing in line with the hopes of trying on clothes. My opinion of myself waffled between mildly disgusted and truly disgusted, but there I sat, people watching and enjoying my predicament as best as I could. 

At about this time reality set in. I realized that I had put a batch of Lulu's sweet potato treats in the oven before I left the house. Having no intention of actually participating in all of this childish foolishness I was so entirely above only an hour earlier, I now balanced the real life scenario of burning down my home due to an igniting sweet potato dog treat and the hopes that I could somehow select a few articles of clothing and make use of my $10 off before coming home to face disaster. 

Of my wardrobe selections I was able to walk away from the trying and traumatic dressing room experience with two moderately respectable tops and a trinket-y necklace. Feeling hopeful I proceeded through the mass of thumping sound waves and tweener/20 something bodies to the cash register where I found, you guessed it, another line. Remembering exactly why I had originally intended to stay away of this event, I was now too far along, committed. I'd invested nearly an hour and a half in the hopes of saving $10, but dammit, I was going to make it pay off!

While in line I struck up a conversation or two with other grand opening participants. In retrospect, I think I did this to justify my participation as more than a casual consumer. My inner dialog said "I run a blog, and I can talk about this on our blog, and our blog gives me purpose, and our blog lets me do this in a way that doesn't make me appear foolish, I'm going to blog about this!" Through my conversations I learned that they had given out water and coupons to the first 100 people in line, yet they too had failed to see the rumored Georgetown Cupcakes that were apparently reserved only for elite shoppers. (P.S. H&M, there are at least FOUR Old Town cupcake shops you *could* have bought from...not starting off on the right foot there.) One young person had received $100 off, while a friend of that person, presumably standing next in line, received just $10. This had me feeling good about my decision not to stand in line for hours in hopes of bigger gain. Wait, what am I saying? I had no intention of standing line for hours. What's my problem?

While in line I kept looking around the store and people watching (it's a pastime, you know). From a nearby accessory rack I heard a bit of a commotion. It started with some excited language, but I couldn't hear exactly what it was. Was it a fight or argument of some sort? No...Ah ha! It was an excited fashionista! She'd been perusing the shirts and found this charming black number with some sort of design and a liger cat (known for it's skills in magic) printed on it. 

She kept repeating the same thing to anyone who would listen! "This looks just like a Versace! This looks just like a Versace! Don't you think!?!? And it's so reasonably priced! This looks just like a Versace!" Now, I'm no Giuliana Rancic or Joan Rivers, but I'm going to venture out on a limb here and say that looks a little bit closer to an Ed Hardy than a Versace, and we all know that John Gosselin killed the entire Ed Hardy brand, so I'm not sure where this couture maven is getting her info, but to each their own. 

As I grew more concerned about the sweet potato dog treats I sent Alex a text, you know, because he could do a lot to help me out while he was at work about 20 minutes from home. Apparently my foray into high fashion didn't have me thinking very clearly.

Alex, however, had his thinking cap on, and he was able to check our web cam to ensure there was no smoke, no fire, and our beautiful Lulu (aka Schmoo in our house) was waiting patiently by the back door for the return of her mother. The question, would she recognize me if I were returning as a fashionista? Alex did put in a request for some clothing from H&M, but he was too late, as I was already in line.

I finally made my way through checkout, then through the doors of the store. As I walked back out onto the sidewalk and into the bright daylight I was partially shocked. My adventure had only taken me a little over an hour and a half, thought it felt like much longer. It felt almost as if I had been picked up and dropped in Oz, but instead of flying monkeys and the Lollipop Guild, I was entertained by hipsters and the fashion forward. I returned home to my loving dog, happy to have me home, and ready for sweet potatoes. Sadly, half of the batch was slightly overdone and needed to be tossed as they were not Lulu approved...

...But the other half was A-OK.

I had learned a lot in my trip that day. First, I'm a sucker for early to mid 90's hip hop and rap, second, I can't pass up a good deal, and third, I'll never be able to hang in the throngs of the hipster fashionistas. But hey, I can still try. Sometimes, as a person of advanced age, you need to venture outside of your comfort zone to be reminded of your rightful place in society, or at least to be reminded of your rightful and healthy place of looking down on those that make you feel uncomfortable about yourself.

At the very least, the Old Town H&M may stand out as one of the classiest H&M exteriors we've ever seen. And though it may not be the store we wanted the most, it sure beats something boring like the onslaught of another banking locale.

How do you handle openings of new stores, restaurants, or establishments in your area? Do you hide away at home and only venture out once crowds have calmed, or do you prefer to be right in the thick of things. I know it varies pretty wildly based on personality and location.

Comments 21


Lindsey Williams Butler
7/26/2013 at 6:09 PM
huge fan
7/26/2013 at 7:03 PM
I went to the grand opening of the H&M in Raleigh and it was such a nightmare, lines everywhere, people packed in like sardines. No coupons or cupcakes! But, yes to the siren call of '90s music DJ, too. I see a pattern here.

Oh Gap Outlet, <<nostalgic sigh>> I spent many hours there. I still have several skirts I bought there in the late '90s that I swear are super classic and not at all pathetic that I occasionally wear, maybe even this past Tuesday.
I'm going to go ahead and say your late 90s skirts are now retro nostalgic and you should absolutely keep rocking them!
Lea Hendershot Andrews
7/26/2013 at 7:04 PM
Wendy - this was just awesome. Loved it! And let's not talk about advanced age since I just turned 40 this week. Lol!
Hah! Thanks, Lea. You know, 40 is the new hipster 23.
7/26/2013 at 7:36 PM
This post cracked me up. I came to oldtownhome looking for information about your ikea butcher block counter top to show my husband. We are trying to finishing our ikea island. Instead I was laughing at this post about H&M, I was sucked into reading and I have one in the mall nearby which I never shop in. Off to look up those counter tops.
Welcome to our neck of the Internet woods. You'll find we cast a rather wide net when it comes to our post topics. Hopefully you can find a wide array of things you like here. Hope you found useful info about the countertops. We really like the one we purchased, but we may have considered doing something more like Lumber Liquidators if it were going to be a truly long term countertop. There are just a few small items with quality on the Ikea counters that seem to vary based on where you purchase them. It's been hit or miss for some people. Best of luck!
7/26/2013 at 8:14 PM
Oh my gosh this was hilarious!
Thanks, Karen. Glad you could enjoy vicariously.
7/26/2013 at 8:30 PM
best. post. ever.
Thanks, Sarah.
7/27/2013 at 10:19 AM
Too funny Wendy! I thought the same thing about John Gosselin killing the Ed Hardy brand and had to laugh that you thought that too! I will look for you next time I am at ATL...excellent choice by the way :)
It's funny that he's the first thing that pops into my head when I think of gaudy and horrible overpriced t-shirts with crazy looking animals and other random stuff all over them.
7/28/2013 at 12:56 AM
"Ill fitting yet surprisingly tight pants" ahahahaha!!! SOooo well said. I ignore grand openings entirely, can't think that I've ever made note of one. I'll mentally bookmark a new store going in if it's a place I look forward to shopping, but that's it.
A style is a style, regardless of how ridiculous it may seem, I guess.
7/29/2013 at 9:17 AM
Oof. I've only once made the mistake of wandering into an H&M. My initial excitement at seeing the racks and racks of jeans for $19.95 quickly wore off when I realized they were all either made of 90% spandex or had embellishments like rhinestones across the butt. I'm not a heavy person by any means, but I can barely get an arm into most of the pants at H&M, never mind a leg.
7/29/2013 at 9:21 AM
I thought the same thing about the cupcakes. Really irritated me. Thanks for the Monday morning laugh, too!
Twitter tells me that we weren't the only ones that noticed this little gaffe.
7/29/2013 at 10:55 PM
Wendy - this had me laughing so hard I was crying. Hilarious! I do like that necklace you picked out!
8/20/2013 at 12:27 PM
This post cracked me up. I feel the exact same way about that store. On one hand I want to check things out, on the other, I'm so embarrassed to walk in!

Although I did get some nice t-shirts there recently :-) Love the necklace!
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