If today is an indicator of how the holiday shopping season will go, area retailers should be smiling in December.
Regardless of its hefty status as the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving is not the busiest shopping day of the season. For those happy to avoid crowds, the busiest day is actually the Saturday before Christmas.
Area store managers agree this is a strong start to a season that is finally reflecting greater consumer confidence in a rising economy.
At J.C. Penney in Brainerd, Cynthia Sayles Albers, store manager, said the 6 a.m. opening today was better than the past two years.
"I think we are at a breaking stage now and hopefully with a good day today we are finally swinging the other way," she said. "This is always a good indicator of how the rest of the holiday season will go."
Hot clothes items included leather jackets, anything with an initial on it and items for the home.
Crowds were reported at Herberger's in the Westgate Mall in Baxter as well. Just down the hall at Brekken's Clothiers in the mall, Janet Banick, assistant store manager, said the consumer traffic was at an upswing compared to last year. Hooded sweatshirts were a popular item.
Banick said people have been shopping earlier this year compared to last season where people appeared more cautious and waited.
That was the experience at the discount retailers as well.
"Sales are definitely stronger this year than they were last year at this time," said Gina Hebl, Target store manager.
Popular items included the small portable personal DVD players, electronics, Bratz dolls (which were strong last year as well), board games, Barbie Dolls, Hulk hands (big green fighting hands that make sounds) and Leap Pads educational toys (which were on the list last year and have gained in popularity this season).
At Kmart, David Lingenfelter, store manager, was seeing the same items in shopper's carts. Bratz dolls, board games, Leap Pad accessories and one of the best sale items -- the $1.99 pillows. Kmart went through 15 to 20 pallets of pillows today.
By 6 a.m. today, Lingenfelter said there were more people in the store than last year by a little later in the morning. Incentives lured turkey-laden shoppers to get up in the dark and line up outside area stores. At Kmart they gave away $400 to $500 in cash cards.
Lingenfelter said he has seen an improvement in sales in the last four months after a summer hard hit by the Highway 210 construction,
"Customer confidence is definitely back -- not full force -- it's definitely getting there," he said.
At Wal-Mart, carts were loaded with DVD players selling for less than $30.
"Those went out in a hurry," said Kirk Helmberger, Wal-Mart store manager.
Hot items included Game Cubes, remote radio-controlled Hummers, Care Bears, Hot Wheels, trampolines and fiber-optic trees.
"The parking lot was full at 6 a.m. and we were all out of carts at 6 a.m.," Helmberger said this morning.
And it appears people are spending more outright versus using Wal-Mart's layaway option this year, which was more popular last season.
Helmberger said: "Today there just seemed to be more stuff in people's carts than last year and that's usually a good indication."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.