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Crowds kick off shopping season

Black Friday
Nov. 23, 2012 @ 11:51 PM

BARBOURSVILLE — J.C. Penney's stock of discounted mixers and toasters disappeared within six minutes of the store's opening Friday morning at the Huntington Mall.

Two of the toasters ended up in Lisa Serey's tower of appliances, a stack at least 4 feet tall that also included three slow cookers and two griddles.

The Ironton woman joined her fiancé and best friend in being among hundreds who stormed J.C. Penney's opening just before 6 a.m. Friday. It was just the third store Serey had visited since taking her spot in line at approximately 3 p.m. Thursday outside of Sears, a move that forced her early departure from Thanksgiving dinner.

But those family members still would be around long after the toasters disappeared, making her trip well worth the hassle and waiting, Serey said.

"I wait all year long, I don't do hardly any shopping," she said. "They make fun of me. I wait and this is when I get all of my stuff."

The early morning, quick-shopping bustle at J.C. Penney compared to virtually empty, mall hallways with plenty of elbow room at 6:30 a.m. Friday -- a stark contrast to reports of heavy sales and foot traffic at midnight and into the wee hours of Black Friday.

It all represents another step in what's becoming a new trend of Thanksgiving and overnight shopping witnessed nationwide.

Sears, Walmart and Toys R Us retailers led the way with openings as early as 8 p.m. Thursday.

One Sears employee called the move a success locally as it attracted shoppers to the store for longer hours. That meant a sales increase the employee believed would hold through Friday night.

Most mall retailers held off opening until midnight. Many stores reported big crowds in their opening hours.

Christy Russell-Brunty, assistant manager at Christopher & Banks, defined the worth of Friday's midnight opening in her store's customer count.

"I was surprised that there were that many people out," she said. "You would have thought it was daytime. I mean there was more people out last night than on Saturdays in here."

Shopper energy and enthusiasm also was mentioned by managers at Charlotte Russe and Adam's Hallmark. Both stores experienced their first midnight opening this year and both reported positive results compared to a year ago.

Toni Birdsong, store manager at Charlotte Russe, equated midnight shopping with happier customers. The joyful spirit helped her store meet its daily goal by 4 a.m. Friday, with 18 more hours to go.

"It's like a midnight party," she said. "They're not tired. They're ready to go. They got their bellies full, they took a little nap and they're ready to go."

Smaller retailers, such as D&D Outfitters and Kid Country Toys, attributed the success of this year's midnight openings to increased participation among the mall's anchor stores, such as Macy's, Elder-Beerman and Dick's Sporting Goods.

D&D's manager, Nathaniel Stroud, said last year's inaugural midnight opening provided some degree of preparation, but he did not anticipate shoppers would be lined at his door waiting for it to open. That prompted an "oh my God" moment, he said.

"We literally had people shaking the gate to get in," he said. "We opened it, and it was like 10 seconds this store was packed."

Larger crowds at the smaller stores did not lead to a decline in opening foot traffic at Macy's, which also opened at midnight for a second year. Manager Beth Taylor attributed that consistency to strong marketing by her corporation with added specials, including some on cosmetics.

But some of the success was internal, said Taylor and RoseTree Boutique manager Kate McMullen. Both praised organization by mall operators, who opened the Barboursville shopping center at 11 p.m. with music and free giveaways.

McMullen, a Black Friday veteran with three midnight openings, said the mall's decision to open its doors at 11 p.m. allowed both employees and customers easier access to their particular store.

Kim Beaver, assistant manager at Justice, repeatedly described Friday's business as "awesome." It was her store's third midnight opening. She said they managed some of the "controlled chaos" by allowing customers to place a one-day hold on some items earlier in the week, which they simply picked up at midnight.

J.C. Penney opted for a much later start -- 6 a.m. Local manager Mark Hatcher called his company's strategy the right thing to do, saying it provided employees with more time to spend with their families.

"Where does it end just to get sales," he questioned. "At some point, you've just got to do what's right and I'm glad our company is doing that."

Family also was mentioned by Nate Broce, a sales associate at Radio Shack. He worked his store's overnight shift and witnessed an increase in sales. But that did little to ease Broce's frustration saying he slept four hours during the day Thanksgiving.

"I think it's a little ridiculous," he said. "I think it's a little silly that corporations can't take into consideration others and how others feel, because Thanksgiving is about being with your family and loved ones."

But shoppers answered Radio Shack's midnight opening, as Broce said the store had tallied $13,000 in sales at 7 a.m. The day's goal was $11,000.

Heather Edwards, store manager at Kid Country Toys, attributed J.C. Penney's late opening to her store experiencing a boost in sales. She said those waiting for the neighbor's 6 a.m. opening shopped at her store.

Hatcher said, as of 1:30 p.m., it was too early to tell how sales at his store would compare to 2011, noting last year's 3:30 a.m. opening left two and a half hours of making up to do Friday.

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