Editor’s Update: Online tickets now available for Saturday, July 16th through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, July 15th. Weekend sale info is now available.
American Girl or bust!
Fans of the iconic doll will want to hit the road towards Middleton, Wisconsin for the Annual American Girl Benefit Sale on Saturday, July 16 – Sunday, July 17, 2016. Now in its 29th year, this annual fundraiser benefits both the Madison Children’s Museum and the American Girl Fund and has raised $22 million for charity over the years.
Why make the trip? Folks flock from all over the country for deep discounts, with many items up to 50% off. When a doll retails for $115, getting one at half-off is a big deal. Besides dolls you may find furniture, accessories, clothing, books and DVD’s. Inventory changes each year, and is made up of overstocks and returned merchandise, but no shopper should be concerned about quality. A team of 300 Madison Children’s Museum volunteers hand check each doll and refurbish them year round. Not a single doll hits the floor without having been under the care of a volunteer. With that being said, keep in mind merchandise is sold as-is with no refunds or exchanges. Some items may be subject to purchase limits.
I attended last year’s sale with my parents to bring our readers the real dish on what to expect if you make the trip. It helps that I have a 5-year old daughter of my own and parents who approach shopping like a professional sport. My parents love a bargain. To my parents, the only thing better than a good discount is being able to regale folks with an elaborate tale about the lengths they went to in order to secure said discount. If you’re the kind of person willing to wake up early for doorbuster deals, actually enjoy haggling over the price of a new car, or for whom Black Friday is an official holiday, then you can understand the kind of fervor I grew up with. There were simply no better companions I could imagine for this “research” trip.
Here’s your peek inside the sale itself from my 2015 trip:
Now you can’t just decide to drive up to Middleton, Wisconsin at the last minute and expect to get in on the first day. There is a very detailed ticketing process and you MUST have a ticket to enter the sale. Tickets for the first day (Saturday, July 16) can only be ordered by mail with check payment in advance ($8 each, limit 4.)
Ticket requests are filled on a first come, first served basis and will only be accepted in envelopes postmarked no earlier than May 3, 2016 and no later than June 30th. Follow this link for full details on acquiring tickets and an official order form.
On the second day of the sale (Sunday, July 17th) admission is FREE but you still need to have a ticket. Tickets are released onsite starting at 8:00 a.m. We lined up early with deal seekers in the pre-dawn light with our lawn chairs and bug spray. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get in if you choose to show up at 8:00 a.m.; but groups are admitted in waves, and the earlier you arrive the earlier you can enter meaning you’ll have first pick of the remaining sale items.
At the Sunday sale you’ll find even deeper discounts on remaining merchandise; however, don’t expect the most popular items to still be in stock. If there is a particular item you must have, be safe and buy it on Saturday and save the “nice-to-haves” for Sunday. Those willing to wait it out will be handsomely rewarded. the item and price list is released on Facebook Saturday night after the volunteers have taken inventory of what is left. Pricing for 2016 will vary, but we picked up Bitty Babies and Bitty Twins for only $25 while My American Girl dolls were $40.
You can try to request early admission tickets that give exclusive entry to a limited number of entrants from 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, but these are the “golden tickets” everyone is after. They are priced at a premium of $20 each if you’re lucky enough to get them. If you’re serious about getting them make sure you send your ticket request the first day you are able on May 3rd and cross your fingers.
As with any big sale, the American Girl Benefit Sale draws large crowds, over 7,000 last year alone. I consider myself to be crowd-averse but I was impressed with how the volunteers handle the crowds. After nearly 30 years, they have crowd control down to a science. Your ticket will have an entry time and if you arrive onsite early you will line up in the holding tent according to the time on your ticket. Ticket times are in 15-minute intervals.
When your time comes a volunteer will take your entire group to the warehouse where you can feel free to shop as long as you wish. Keep in mind, once you leave, you cannot re-enter but there won’t be anyone pushing you out the door. Take as long as you like.
It’s a lot of folks inside a warehouse on a hot summer day, but I found everyone to be very well-behaved and in good humor. On a Sunday, the atmosphere is a tad more manic than Saturday but on the whole it is tolerable. If the warehouse gets too full, volunteers will hold off entries until more people exit. They also manage space by prohibiting any wheeled devices like carts, wagons, luggage or strollers and NO children age three or under are permitted entry. I would take that last point very seriously. In fact, I would avoid bringing in any child that wasn’t taller than my elbow. In a bottleneck the crowd would easily swallow up a small child.
If you must bring your children, come with an adult companion who will wait outside with them. Outside the warehouse there are several attractions to keep everyone busy. A large craft fair is available outside with vendors selling handmade doll furniture, clothing and other accessories. There is a silent auction tent, concessions, a holding tent for your purchases, and even a play area for children.
Don’t be too intimidated by the long lines at checkout, it moves briskly and if you drove two hours to get there you can certainly wait a little longer. Only cash and credit are accepted at the sale – no checks. Payment policies may differ with craft fair vendors but cash is always accepted.
My parents and I opted to get an overnight hotel on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Now with travel expenses you can easily negate your shopping savings, but if you decide to make it a weekend getaway it can be well worth it. Middleton is a suburb of Madison which is filled with lots of culture, attractions and activities. Book a discounted room at one of these recommended hotels, some of which have shuttle service to the sale.
The Madison Children’s Museum typically offers special programming specifically for visitors of the benefit sale. During sale weekend, take the kids to see the museum’s newest exhibit, “Get Small: Miniatures, Dolls and Houses.” We’ve got lots of ideas for your Madison getaway:
- Jessica G. tells us about the Henry Vilas Zoo
- Check out our itinerary for a Madison Family Day Trip
- Our friends at Go Valley Kids! share their list of Madison attractions
29th Annual American Girl Benefit Sale
Saturday, July 16, 2016 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Sunday July 17, 2016 8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
8830 N. Greenview Drive, Middleton, WI
Ticket requests by mail postmarked no earlier than May 3, 2016 and no later than June 30, 2016