With the economic turmoil this year, retailers weren't sure what to expect for Friday's traditionally heavy shopping the day after Thanksgiving.
But deep discounts appeared to be working as area parking lots were crowded outside. And area department stores reported a strong showing in the pre-dawn hours Friday.
This was J.C. Penney Co. Inc.'s first Black Friday at its new store in Baxter. Store Manager Brian Kinsey estimated about 200 people were waiting outside the store, which opened 10 minutes early - just before 4 a.m.
"We're doing very well," Kinsey said, noting people sprinted to items they likely had identified in the store before the sale day.
Key items included electronics such as a five-in-one video game, MP3 players and digital photo albums, Kinsey said. Winter lounge pants, hats and gloves were strong sellers along with cookware such as blenders, roasters and waffle irons.
Shoppers packed the parking lots of area retailers, including the Westgate Mall. Mild temperatures and deals brought shoppers out in force while others were out simply to continue a tradition of shopping on Black Friday.
» Purchase reprints of this photo.Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
As a way to draw people in, J.C. Penney offered a big Internet campaign this year, providing card holders with coupons they could use with discounted door buster sales. Compared to working in larger cities in the Midwest, Kinsey said customers here were very pleasant to work with.
Kinsey, in his 14th year in retail, said this year doesn't feel as if fewer people turned out but how sales will affect total sales volumes for the season remains to be seen. He said this year's sales were the best deals he's seen.
"But after today I'm pretty confident we are going to be pretty strong through Christmas," Kinsey said.
At Target, store Manager Megan Kuiper said the turnout was strong.
"It seemed just the same as last year, which was good to see," Kuiper said.
Hot items included Guitar Hero and a Kodak camera among other electronics, toys and particularly the $3.98 DVD movies. Discounts on items were as deep as half off.
"I do think it's just tradition for a lot of guests though so they get a lot of their shopping done today," Kuiper said of Black Friday. While the store had the same volume of people, Kuiper said shoppers were purchasing less.
Best Buy in Baxter, which had shoppers camping out in the parking lot during the night, reported a hectic morning with shoppers interested in door busters and sales for laptops and TVs. And there were large lines reported at 5:30 a.m. outside Menards. Those who did venture out had clear roads and mild shopping weather.
At the Westgate Mall, Dave Jackson, mall manager, reported an increase in both traffic and sales compared to the past couple of years. Jackson said mall store managers reported being happy with this year's sales. A tell-tale sign comes with a marker Jackson said the mall was happy to see - many shoppers walking around with numerous bags.
"It was way better than last year," said Kirk Helmberger, Wal-Mart store manager. "So we did well. We sold out of just about all our electronics stuff. All the TVs went. All the toys went."
Helmberger said prices for clothing - from jeans to coats - attracted buyers with price points of $4 and $8. The discounts offered shoppers more value than previous seasons.
"The crowd certainly was here to prove that," Helmberger said.
While Wal-Mart is open 24 hours, the door buster sales don't start until 5 a.m. so customers weren't allowed to grab them until the appointed hour. Customers were staked out next to merchandise on their list at 3 a.m. And some shoppers waited outside the store in fish houses at midnight.
Helmberger said he was initially concerned the store may have stocked too many TVs, but they went quickly. Other hot sellers included Power Wheels, little vehicles children drive, vacuums and Cricut machines used in scrapbooking. Another fast seller included 500-thread count sheets. While there weren't huge supplies, the inventory the store did have was gone in 15 seconds, Helmberger said.
Electronics, which are perennially good, continued to be strong this year. Helmberger said people looking for high definition upgrades finally saw prices drop enough to make those purchases appealing. Blu-ray disc players, at $128, were gone in a hurry. Helmberger said last year the machines cost more than $200.
The International Council of Shopping Centers predicted U.S. chain stores would have holiday sales growth in November and December with a growth of 1.7 percent this year as shoppers look at modest spending compared to recent years. In a news release, Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief economist and director of research, said this holiday season will be "challenging for many U.S. chains, but discounters and wholesalers will have a relatively good season as consumers focus on basics and value.
"Not surprisingly, big-ticket purchases are likely to take a back seat to more traditional, basic and value-oriented goods and services," he said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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