Stores full on holiday season's opening day

November 26, 1994|By This story was written by John Fairhall and reported by Sun staff writers Dan Thanh Dang, Shirley Leung, Howard Libit, Amy Miller and Ted Shelsby. The New York Daily News contributed to this article.

Fortified with turkey and heavily armed with plastic, armies of Marylanders stormed area stores yesterday, stalking gifts and everyday goods in an annual ritual so entrenched in American culture that it invites the question: Did the Pilgrims go shopping the day after Thanksgiving?

Most merchants reported robust sales for the day -- the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season -- and predicted that cash register totals for the season would surpass last year's. Some retailers said consumers also were spending more per person.

"We have high hopes for the holidays," said Towson Town Center general manager Christopher Schardt, who forecasts an 8 percent to 10 percent increase in sales over 1993. He expected up to 50,000 people to visit the mall yesterday -- a safe bet, judging by the line for the ladies' room at Nordstrom's late in the afternoon.

Retailers nationwide are optimistic. The accounting firm Coopers Lybrand projected retail sales will rise 6.5 percent this season. Alan Millstein, a retail analyst and editor of the Fashion Network Report, said sales of hard goods, such as home furnishings, could increase as much as 10 percent this year over last.

Closer to home, Power Rangers and Barbie dolls were hot children's items in stores from Westminster to Annapolis, as was the Kangaroo Hop, a red ball that a 2- or 3-year-old can ride. The Squiggle Ball entertained a crowd at Natural Wonders in Towson Town Center. Hidden inside a lunch bag by mischievous sales people, the $9 battery-powered toy zig-zagged along the floor, startling some customers.

No one's tastes or interests were overlooked by eager merchants. How about a "Cardio Christmas" workout music CD for the athletically minded in your home? Or a baby boomer aerobics tape featuring '60s groups like Jay and the Americans? NordicTrack outlets offer these under the banner of "stocking stuffers."

Big crowds were drawn to stores that opened in some cases before dawn with the promise of deep discounts for consumers who didn't mind trading sleep for savings. Santa Claus was an added attraction for many families; he managed to cover a lot of ground quickly, appearing at several malls and stores.

When Theresa Hamm of Pasadena went to the Glen Burnie Wal-Mart at 6:30 a.m., "there was no parking space," she said, surprised by the number of even earlier birds. "People at Wal-Mart had their carts stacked. People were fighting over popcorn tins. It was wild," Ms. Hamm said.

Greetings & Readings in Towson greeted customers at 7 a.m., who were in a line "to the end of the shopping center" waiting for a shot at 25-percent-off merchandise, according to store president Steven Baum.

Store owners and managers attributed their good fortunes to everything from the cooler weather of late to economic optimism spawned in part by the elections.

"People are tired of being pessimistic," Mr. Baum said, and "hope with the Congress that we'll see some changes. I think it was a real big plus in people's minds."

"Snow puts people a little more in the spirit," noted Carl Rosen, assistant manager at Leggett's department store at Cranberry Mall in Westminster, referring to the light coating that Carroll County and other areas got Wednesday night.

But sales had been climbing gradually at many stores even before temperatures dipped, a sign of good times to come. Part of the reason is the early commencement of Hanukkah, which begins tomorrow. "I've been talking to retailers and they've been telling me that holiday shopping started before today," said Karen A. Pospisil, a sales and marketing manager at White Marsh Mall.

Even so, yesterday was a special event for the many people who make day-after-Thanksgiving shopping a family tradition.

"We do this every year -- we get up at 6 a.m.," said Joyce Bambary, 39, whose entourage of 10 family members and friends filled two cars for the drive from their homes in Easton and Ridgely on the Eastern Shore.

"When the stores open, we shop 'til we drop. . . . We start in Annapolis and work our way up," she said after reaching Marley Station in Glen Burnie. "It's a family thing."

The prospect of elbow-to-elbow shopping didn't scare Gerry Richardson, 34, of Linthicum. "This is the best day because of sales," she said cheerfully. "Crowds? You have to be willing to stand in lines and suffer with everyone else."

But after seven hours of shopping, Ms. Richardson's sister, Mary Kellneor, 27, had no rational explanation for her behavior. "Why am I out here? I'm crazy!" she declared.

Alex Pagnotta of Ellicott City had never shopped the day after Thanksgiving, and with his wife prepared for the mission by hiring a babysitter for their three children. "We started off at 7 a.m. at Caldor and Kmart, where we bought toys for the kids because they had an extra 10 percent off that early," said Mr. Pagnotta, who then rattled off a list of five stores the couple had shopped at the Columbia Mall.

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