The going-out-of-business sale at Macy's in downtown St. Paul got underway Monday, with about 30 customers waiting quietly in line for discounts of 20 to 40 percent when the store opened.

Connie Hoen of Oakdale was disappointed.

"I was hoping for 50 percent," she said, as she considered whether to even buy the Fitz & Floyd giftware set she was carrying around.

The St. Paul store is one of six that Cincinnati-based Macy's is closing, along with Macy's stores in Houston; Pasadena, Calif.; Belmont, Mass.; Honolulu; and a Bloomingdale's in Las Vegas.

As the St. Paul sale got started, many items still did not have signs up indicating the discount. Cosmetics and fragrances are not discounted, which is typical of most department store going-out-of-business sales, including Bloomingdale's at the Mall of America last year.

Irwin Jacobs, who founded Jacobs Trading Co., a liquidation business in Hopkins, said he would expect the discounts on other items to increase to 30 to 50 percent in a couple of weeks, then 40 to 60, and 50 to 70 percent, with most items on the lower end of the discount range.

Macy's will continue to employ its regular staff during the seven to 11 weeks of the sale, but a liquidator also was hired to help, said spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz.

Jacobs said Macy's could distribute some merchandise to other stores or outlets, but there are obstacles.

"It costs a lot in labor and transportation costs to move merchandise to another store," said Tony Hofstede, president and co-owner of Event Sales Inc. in Minneapolis. "And they don't know how long their employees will be around near the end. Liquidators fill in the gaps."

When Bloomingdale's closed at the Mall of America last year, the store eventually brought in Oriental rugs and furniture as space became available. Neither the Bloomingdale's at MOA nor Macy's downtown St. Paul store sold rugs or furniture before the liquidation started.

"You can count on the liquidators bringing in more merchandise as the prime stuff sells out," Hofstede said.

No Oriental rugs or furniture have shown up in St. Paul, but Macy's would not be violating any going-out-of-business guidelines if they do. The store would be allowed to bring in items such as rugs or furniture because other Macy's stores sell them, said Dan Hendrickson at the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota.

When liquidation specialists are brought in to help with a sale, there aren't usually as many deals because the liquidator has to take a cut, said Patrick Fleetham, who owned Fleetham Furniture in Uptown and Re-Furnish in Bloomington.

For example, Macy's was selling Martha Stewart Plush towels at 20 percent off on Monday that the retailer discounts 40 percent or more during regular sales.

Some departments or collections already are at more than a 40 percent savings. Cold-weather items such as men's and women's winter coats, scarves and gloves were being sold at 50 percent off.

Holiday gift collections such as Harry & David Moose Munch buckets ($34 regularly) were discounted 70 percent in St. Paul, but at the downtown Minneapolis store on Monday, the same item was discounted higher, at 75 percent off.

Overall, shoppers who remember the Bloomingdale's sale a year ago could see similar patterns at work. The identical signs advertising the percent savings hang from the ceiling throughout the store. However, the Bloomingdale's opening discount was slightly less, at 10 to 40 percent.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633