Police were called to four Brantano shoe stores and one shop had to be closed because of a rush of customers looking for bargains as the chain is about to close down.
Brantano is in receivership, and the sale is bring organised by the court-appointed administrators and the auction house Moyersoen. Go get rid of a huge backlog of stock, the chain is offering a straight 75% discount across the board, on all shoes and accessories.
But the offer has seen a land-rush response.
On the first day yesterday, queues had already formed at 08.00 for the opening at 10.00. Most people were masked, but before very long the rules on social distancing had become inoperable, the crowds were so huge and the lines so long.
Mayors in some of the towns affected were concerned that local police forces would be swamped trying to control the crowds, and complained they had not been consulted.
Kristof Audenaert *CD&V), mayor of Torhout, was already furious yesterday speaking on the VRT about the chaos. Today he warned that he might put a stop to the sale in his town if conditions do not improve.
“When Brantano is offering a normal 20 or 30 percent discount, then at least seven salespeople are at work,” he said. “Yesterday it was 75 percent off and there were four poor shop assistants present. They did the best they could, but the queues were way too long. And not all shops were open. That’s asking for trouble.”
Inside the stores, according to TV images, it was clear that people were ignoring the rules – still in force until Monday – limiting the number of people allowed in the store at any one time, and making people shop alone or with children, but not with friends.
A spokesperson for Moyersoen, however, said the first day of the sale had gone well.
“Police had to intervene or the doors had to be closed at only four shops,” said Jeroen Van Daele of the auction house. One shop in Genk in Limburg was closed by police.
“There were no problems in the nearly sixty other stores. We achieved very good results. The staff were very satisfied they were able to work. We received a lot of messages and photos, even at 10 pm.”
Unions representing staff – who have been made redundant and are employed on temporary contracts until the big sale is over – were less than satisfied.
Working conditions were described as “disgusting and scandalous” and unions demanded measures be taken.
“The shops cannot be kept open any longer under current circumstances,” said Sven De Scheemaeker of the Christian union ACV Puls/CNE on Saturday.
“The stores have been looted, the employees are mentally exhausted. This cannot be allowed to happen again,” he said. “It’s total madness to sell at 25% of the retail price. If things are too cheap, respect for the product and the people disappears.”
The company will evaluate the results of the first two day to see where improvements might be made. Among the suggestions: more staff, more open checkouts and the insertion of security guards. The sale, meanwhile, could go on for weeks before stocks run out.