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Local News

December 6, 2013

Early birds flock to holiday sales

MERCER COUNTY AREA — Black Friday shopping began Thursday.

More retailers than ever opened their doors on Turkey Day this year as a way to entice shoppers to buy, buy, buy. What’s more, a number of retailers had flashy sales last week as the start of holiday season sales.

Just what’s going on here?

For generations Black Friday, so named because it put many retailers in the black for annual profits, was long considered the official kickoff to holiday shopping. The day after Thanksgiving was considered a good choice because it allowed shoppers, and store employees, a day of rest on Thanksgiving day before the onslaught began.

Turns out the shoppers were restless.

Initially retailers opened an hour or two early on Black Friday, typically around 8 a.m. to generate excitement about sales. Then about 15 years ago the clock got pushed back earlier and earlier with larger department stores opening their doors at 6 a.m., then it became 4 a.m. and in some cases even earlier.

More than a decade ago Kmart was among the first retailers to open their door on Thanksgiving day to allow consumers first crack at sales items.

Then shopping centers such as Grove City Premium Outlets pushed it even further when in 2006 stores at the Springfield Township mall opened at the strike of midnight, the last official second of Thanksgiving day. Promoted as a “midnight madness’’ sale the event lived up to its billing as traffic backed up for 10 miles on Interstate 79 and seven miles on I-80.

With such an enormous success there was no turning back.

Target and Toys R Us began pushing their opening time into late Thanksgiving night.

This year for the first time Macy’s, J.C.Penney and Staples are opening their doors Thanksgiving day along with Kohl’s. The Gap, which operates Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic,  opened half its stores Thanksgiving morning.

Social media sites such as Facebook were filled with people pleading with others not to shop on Thanksgiving and to stay home with their loved ones. But, at least in the past, people have voted with their pocketbooks and have gone out in legions to retailers opening at almost any hour over the next several days.

A few retailers, a very brave few, have steadfastly said they will not open this Thanksgiving such as Jo Ann Fabric, which has a Hermitage store.

Grove City Premium Outlets reported 81 stores were to open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving with the remaining 49 stores to have staggered openings throughout the night and remain open all night. The outlet center closed at 10 p.m. Friday. 

The holiday openings came despite threatened protests from workers’ rights groups, which are opposed to employees working on the holiday instead of spending the day with family.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores.

Here’s how the start of the holiday shopping season was playing out nationwide:

ä Las Vegas police say a shopper carrying a big-screen TV home from a Target on Thanksgiving was shot by a thief. Police Lt. David Gordon says the victim was carrying the TV at an apartment complex near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when someone fired warning shots, prompting him to drop the appliance. Gordon says the robber snatched the TV and took it to a vehicle, and the victim tried to wrestle it back. That’s when the robber fired shots and hit the victim in the leg. It’s unclear what happened to the TV.

Police in Utah say at least two people were knocked to the ground by a crowd of Wal-Mart shoppers jockeying for a $49 tablet computer. Police say store employees brought out a pallet of items wrapped in cellophane, and about 200 people rushed forward to grab the items as the workers cut the wrapper.

ä Friday, 11 a.m.: Mindy Snow of Chicago stopped by Target in Niles, Ill., with a notebook in hand. She was doing her best to stick to her list, which included clothes for her teenage daughter and wine glasses for her sister.

“I’m trying to remain disciplined but it’s tough,” she said. “So many cute things I keep seeing for myself.”

Snow, 33, is an accountant and a single mom. She said she plans to spend about $500 on gifts this year — a little more than last year — but admitted it will be tough to keep to that.

ä Friday, 10:50 a.m.: One shopper asks, what deal? Michael Feinman said he was surprised at the lack of deals overall. He thought it would have been more aggressive.

Feinman ought to know what makes a good deal. He works in merchandising for Bloomingdale’s. At a mall in Shorts Hills, N.J., Feinman suspects that the timing of the start of Hanukkah — coinciding with Thanksgiving this year — meant retailers knew people would spend. So he expects deals to get better, particularly in the two weeks before Christmas.

ä Friday, 10:40 a.m.: Toys R Us executive reports “nice crowds around the country.”

“It was very steady overall, good crowds, lots of families shopping together,” Toys R Us’ chief merchandising operator, Richard Barry, said in an interview. “People are using it as an entertainment, having some fun and getting great deals in the holiday spirit.”

Crowds were largest when the stores opened at 5 p.m. Thursday, then were quieter from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. Another spike came at 5 a.m. as more deals kicked off.

He said popular items included classic toys, such as a 55-piece train table set that was half off at $40. Also selling well were Lego sets, a Thomas the Tank Engine board game and Nerf’s Rebel bow-and-arrow set. People were also buying the children’s video games “Skylanders” and “Disney Infinity.”

Barry said people responded well to the stores’ 5 p.m. opening, three hours earlier than last year.

“People liked the fact they could shop at a more humane hour and didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night, and could spend time with family,” he said. “Overall our whole strategy is to give customers what they want, how they want and when they want.”

ä Friday, 10:25 a.m.: A father faces felony child neglect charges after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted a baby left alone in a car outside a Best Buy store. The incident happened about 5:30 p.m. Thursday near Orlando.

Authorities say trooper Edy Rivera saw the infant in a car seat inside a locked car. He went into the store, looking for the vehicle’s owner. When no one came forward, he broke the vehicle’s window and got the baby boy out.

A short time later, officials say 34-year-old Haider Darwash returned to the vehicle. He told troopers he thought his wife had the baby. She was located standing in line at another business in the shopping center. The child was not harmed.

ä Friday, 10 a.m.: Macy’s says about 15,000 people waited in line for the opening of its flagship store in New York at 8 p.m. Thursday. That compares with the 11,000 people last year, when the store opened at midnight. “It’s unbelievable,” CEO Terry Lundgren said in an interview Friday morning. “Clearly people are in the shopping mood.”

In terms of hot items, workout gear and women’s shoes were “off the charts successful,” Lundgren said. Because of the chilly weather, boots and sweaters were popular, too.

ä Friday, 9:30 a.m.: Vinnie Gopalakrishnan saw footage on TV of people shopping on Thanksgiving Day and thought they were all crazy.

But then Gopalakrishnan’s cousin told him about a 70-inch flat-screen TV on sale at Wal-Mart for about $1,000 — a savings of about $600. Gopalakrishnan got in his car for his first Black Friday outing.

“I’m not even Christmas shopping,” he said. The TV “is just for me.”

The store was much quieter than the night before, when workers had set up metal barricades outside to keep people in an orderly line. By Friday morning, workers were dismantling the barricades and checkout operators were standing by their registers, waiting for customers. As he waited at a store in Niles, Ill., Gopalakrishnan thought his odds were good, but knew there was no sure thing. “There’s blood in the water,” said Gopalakrishnan, a 34-year-old restaurant manager from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook.

ä Friday, 9:15 a.m.: Police officer suffers broken wrist breaking up fight

Authorities say a police officer suffered a broken wrist as he broke up a brawl between two men waiting in line for Black Friday shopping deals at a Southern California Wal-Mart store.

The San Bernardino Sun says the fight occurred about 7 p.m. Thanksgiving night when store managers decided to open the doors early to accommodate more than 3,000 waiting people. The doors were originally scheduled to open at 8 p.m.

Police say there were three fights at the store in Rialto. Two of them were inside over merchandise; the third was outside, when the officer got injured.

ä Friday, 9:05 a.m.: Jill Teal said she does most of her shopping online, but she was out at Kohl’s department store in Clifton Park with her sister, Judy Espey. Their shopping trip started at 4 a.m.

Espey, the mother of three children ages 12 to 16, said her purchases included the Beats line of headphones and speakers.

She actually began her shopping Thursday night, when she ducked out after having dinner with her family to buy a 50-inch flat-screen television at Wal-Mart for $288. But said she’s not thrilled that stores now open on Thanksgiving, believing that it takes away from the fun of shopping with friends on Black Friday.

“I don’t really dig the Thanksgiving night thing. I feel bad for the workers,” Espey said. “They’ve ruined Black Friday.”

ä Friday, 8:50 a.m.: Crowds waiting for vouchers for a deal on televisions walked away empty-handed after an in-stock guarantee fell through at a Wal-Mart store near Tampa, Fla.

Wal-Mart had promised that shoppers can get a voucher to buy the product later if a store is sold out, as long as the shopper is inside the store within one hour of a doorbuster sales event. At the store in Lutz, Fla., that meant either a television or a voucher for anyone in line before 7 p.m. Thursday. Customers told Bay News 9 that by 7:15 p.m., they were told that all the televisions — and vouchers — were gone.

Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies who were already working at the store were asked for assistance. The crowd didn’t get unruly, but customers told the television station they were upset. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Danit Marquardt said the company is looking into the situation.

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