Retailers optimistic on `Black Friday'

Area stores are crowded as holiday shopping starts

November 29, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Menyvette Curtis arrived at Circuit City in Catonsville well before sunrise with the mission of getting one of the store's sale-priced 32-inch televisions for $200.

But she learned quickly that arriving at 4:15 a.m. and securing the 12th spot in line didn't guarantee anything in the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

Curtis said she was lifted off the ground by a mob of people that began pushing toward a manager giving out tickets to reserve a television. She quickly got out of line.

"It didn't help much because I didn't get what I came for," Curtis said of her early arrival.

After lackluster holiday sales last year forced many stores to sell piles of leftover inventory at drastic reductions, retailers are anticipating a brighter shopping season this year.

The National Retail Federation is predicting the best holiday shopping season since 1997, with a 5.7 percent increase in sales as the economy rebounds and consumers become more confident about spending.

"We think this retail season will be significantly better than last year," said Jason Milch, a spokesman for retail sales tracker ShopperTrak in Chicago. "The economy is in a much better position than it was at this time last year. We had a strong back-to-school season, which is usually a pretty good indicator of how things will go."

Though not the most profitable day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving is still an important milestone for retailers. It's called Black Friday because it's the day many begin showing a profit for the year. Some customers do all of their Christmas shopping that day.

"Black Friday is critical for making our month," said Circuit City manager Art Fisher.

Fisher said about 500 people were lined up outside the doors when the store opened at 6 a.m. Most were trying to take advantage of a six-hour sale on items from televisions to camcorders, digital cameras and $500 computers. Within 20 minutes all of the $29.99 DVD/CD players, $199.99 32-inch televisions and $129.99 27-inch televisions had sold out. At 9 a.m. people were waiting in line 30 to 40 minutes to pay for their purchases.

At 5:30 a.m. at Port Covington in Baltimore, the line outside Wal-Mart snaked through the parking lot as shoppers waited in the darkness and rain for the 6 a.m. start of a five-hour sale.

Orange ribbons were set up as markers to prevent people from cutting in. People passed the time gossiping and drinking coffee sold from carts wheeled around by McDonald's employees. One woman watched a portable television.

William Brogen was first in line at 11:30 p.m. the night before, intent on not missing out on DVD players for just under $30 and a flat-screen television for $100. "I just want the deals," he said.

Demolition derby

Once inside, shoppers swarmed over the stacks of televisions and DVDs in the middle of the store and filled the toy aisles. People bumped into each other with shopping carts and knocked over displays.

"Don't worry, baby, it's going to be the same price when you get up there," a clerk told one man who nearly toppled a display of gloves to get to the register with his television.

"Somebody pass me a flat-screen TV," a customer yelled from the back of the line, as if it could be thrown like a football.

At 3 p.m. yesterday, Darla Trigger of Laurel and Cindy Ganoe of Savage stopped for a break at Cinnabon at the Mall in Columbia. The childhood friends had been shopping since 4:30 a.m., when they got a space in line at Best Buy.

"We do this every year," said Trigger of their shopping excursion.

She and Ganoe, both Defense Department employees, looked up items online and checked advertisements the night before, planning which stores to hit.

Shoppers appear willing to spend more freely than last year.

Gifts for the givers

Michelle Shawyer, the store manager of the South Moon Under clothing boutique at the Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, said she noticed that more people are picking up a few items for themselves this year.

"People are still buying for themselves because the economy is a lot better than in the past, so they don't feel as guilty about buying a few things while buying gifts for others," she said.

Laura Ginsberg, for instance, was looking at sweaters and tops for herself at South Moon Under before she headed back to Princeton University.

"There's a lot of new styles out, so it's a good time for me to shop," said Ginsberg, 20, who lives in Pikesville.

At TownMall of Westminster yesterday, James and Sue Leete said they were splurging a little more this year because Sue recently got a raise.

The Westminster couple bought clothes and toys for their 8-year-old son, Bradley, who was already playing with a new camouflage toy gun as his parents talked.

Evelyn Combs, 73, spent three hours at the Westminster mall.

"I knew what I was going to buy," Combs said. "We had more to spend this year because I feel more confident, and I only charge what I know I can pay off."

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