with gallery : Ann Arbor goes wild for 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' at Walgreens
If talk show host Ellen DeGeneres truly had been outside the Walgreens at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Maple Street, she would have seen a large crowd, sporting Santa hats, Rudolph noses, Grinch costumes, lights and garland, plaid Christmas pajamas, elf ears, boxes wrapped like presents with cut-outs for arms, and a whole lot of love.
Hundreds of people from Washtenaw County, west and southern Michigan, northern Ohio and even Hawaii traveled to Ann Arbor Wednesday night in pursuit of a mysterious tweet, posted on DeGeneres’ Twitter page Tuesday night:
- “If you live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and you aren't following me, I would start now, and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow's a big day.”
Joe Kelley, a professional photographer and soon-to-be children’s book author, had no idea what that meant. But he and business partner Nick Rokicki hopped on a plane from Maui, Hawaii, and jetted off to Michigan.
Details emerged later Wednesday via Twitter, revealing the location and telling travelers to dress in holiday attire as well as to bring a toy for Toys for Tots. The toy got attendees a raffle ticket for a chance to win a $5,000 gift card to Walgreens.
The event started at 7:30 p.m., and at 9 p.m., DeGeneres appeared on a TV set up in the Walgreens parking lot during a live taping of her show from California. The episode featuring the footage from Ann Arbor will air on Monday.
Kelley said Rokicki is a huge fan of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and Kelley has family in Plymouth that he planned to visit soon anyway.
“We just figured we might as well,” he said.
Kelley also has a soft spot for Toys for Tots. His younger brother died at age 20 serving in the United States Marines.
“So pretty much anything benefitting Toys for Tots and I am there in a flash,” he said.
At first it was unclear whether or not DeGeneres herself would be in Ann Arbor. Most people expected the star would not be.
A member of DeGeneres’ camera crew said Ann Arbor’s turnout was the best he has seen in his two years with the show.
Adrian College senior Laura Brunet was “pretty bummed” when she learned DeGeneres would not be coming. It has been her dream to meet the comedian and philanthropist, she said.
The excursion from Adrian was Brunet’s first outing since having heart surgery last week. She was dressed as a large present marked “To Ellen” and eagerly waiting at the front of the line.
“She’s so inspirational to me,” Brunet said of DeGeneres. “She’s very giving. I think more people who can, should be more like her.”
Brunet was very hopeful one of DeGeneres’ giveaways would be cash.
“I was really hoping maybe I would win and it could help me pay for my medical bills,” she said.
A number of students from the University of Michigan came for their five minutes of fame, including a group from the university’s marching band and the women’s hockey team. A sign in the front row stated: “#Forgetfinals, @TheEllenShow is here.”
Roommates Allie Laurin and Kiersten Popke, both juniors at U-M, dressed up as the Grinch and the Grinch’s dog, Max. Popke spent most of the day watching DeGeneres’ Twitter feed and planning their outfits while working at East Quad. A mutual love for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” helped the two women’s friendship blossom as college freshmen.
Gloria Ryan, 85, drove from Toledo, Ohio, with her two daughters to experience the live shooting of the show. She said she watches DeGeneres every day and enjoys the star’s sense of humor and smile. The woman sat inside the Walgreens in her wheelchair and watched the “crazies” who were outside freezing.
Ryan said while she didn’t get to see everything, she was glad she made the trip for the experience.
The Ellen Show’s appearance was great for the Ann Arbor Walgreens, said manager Tracie Klotz, adding it significantly boosted sales, since many of the people who came out purchased their toys at the drugstore.
“We also just opened last year and are kind of tucked back away from things, so many people didn’t even know we were here,” Klotz said. “And we’re a Toys for Tots drop location.
"Now when Ellen isn’t here, people will know where to bring their toys.”
Walgreens and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are both partners of Toys for Tots. Klotz said she was told the show chose a Michigan location for its holiday giving promotion in hopes there would be some snow. Klotz did not find out DeGeneres would be shooting at the Ann Arbor store until about 6 p.m. Monday.