It happens every year in late August — a run on lanterns, camp stoves and sturdy tents at the REI outdoor gear store on Santa Rosa Avenue.
It's become so predictable that REI staff use a common name for the shoppers: "Burners," the free-spirited, art-loving, sometimes eccentric characters who attend the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.
"We set up an entire Burning Man display every year," said Marco Arredondo, a retail sales manager. "We prepare a month in advance for this event."
At least 200 Burning Man shoppers have geared up at the Santa Rosa store, Arredondo said, buying portable showers, sleeping pads and even ski goggles to keep the dust out of their eyes.
"Yeah, we see an increase in traffic this time of year," he said.
The week-long Burning Man festival begins Monday when 68,000 people will descend on northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Festival-goers will set up a massive tent city with roads, neighborhoods and a huge statue in the center. They will torch this wooden "Man" on Saturday night in a tradition that dates back to the festival's founding more than 20 years ago.
The event has grown into a celebration of community, self-reliance and art, said Nathalie Tendrick, 26, a Glen Ellen dancer attending her fourth festival.
"Everyone is there to have a good time," she said. "There is no money exchanged. That is an important part of Burning Man."
Besides the admission ticket, which can be as high as $650, there is nothing to buy at Burning Man except coffee and ice. All transactions are on the barter system in a rejection of consumerism, according to the festival's official website. The admission fee goes toward portable bathrooms, the land use permit, emergency services and commissioned art pieces.
Burning Man participants from the North Bay said most people share food, drink and sometimes drugs, which are officially banned. You can get a free breakfast by telling a joke at one tent. Another group rolls sushi for passersby.
Despite some perceptions, typical event-goers are not dreadlocked hippies dancing naked in the desert. They come from all walks of life, said Steve Thomas, a Santa Rosa organization development consultant, but they do share a love of creativity and freedom.
"There's all kinds of people who attend," said Thomas, 60, who is attending his fourth festival. "Burning Man has room for anyone. I get to meet incredibly creative people, and people at every stage of development with no judgement."
Many look forward to unplugging during the festival, which lacks Internet and has spotty cellphone service. For Rhoann Ponseti, marketing director at First Community Bank in Santa Rosa, the event offers a chance to escape the corporate world.
"You get to get outside whatever your other life is," said Ponseti, who attended twice but will miss this year's festival due to other commitments. "There is no business. It is all about creativity. Art tours. Yoga classes. There's something for everyone."
Some Sonoma County artists have displayed sculptures at Burning Man. Commissioned artists are compensated for the materials and transportation of their work.
Glen Ellen sculptor Bryan Tendrick crafted a 26-foot-tall howling metal coyote for this year's festival, said his wife, Terry Roberts. Their daughter, Nathalie, will perform belly dance fusion, combining jazz and modern dance styles, at the festival. She said Burning Man is an amazing spectacle for the senses.