Shoppers brave the cold, crowds to find bargins

Michelle Poje

Shoppers crowd the aisles on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving.

Credit: Jason Hall

An array of Christmas trees glittering with multi-colored ornaments stands clustered around a display of makeup and perfume. Long lengths of greenery drape across the high ceilings. A jolly-looking Santa Claus clad in a faux velvet suit and beard holds court amid a wintry wonderland of snow, presents and squirming children accompanied by their exhausted parents. Above the din, you can hear the faint sound of familiar Christmas carols being played over the loudspeaker.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving or, as those who work in retail call it, Black Friday. And while the nickname Black Friday may give off a negative aura, the “busiest shopping day of the year” is anything but for businesses and bargain hungry shoppers everywhere.

“It’s madness; it’s cold but I know I’ll keep going year after year,” said Dustin Witlock, 21, of Canton who stood in line at Best Buy at the Strip in North Canton from 1 a.m. until the store opened at 5 a.m. Witlock said he waited in line to get a discounted digital camera as well as other various items.

Witlock said he also witnessed some of that well-known shopping excitement and tension from shoppers while waiting in line.

“The line was really long and toward the end of our wait, the crowd was starting to get rowdy, and they had to call in the police to calm some people down,” Witlock said.

Best Buy wasn’t the only place where shoppers waited for bargains in the wee hours of the morning. Chapel Hill Mall in Akron and Westfield Shoppingtown in Canton both opened their main doors to shoppers at 7 a.m. Those who worked in department stores like Kaufmann’s reported to work at 5 a.m., where some shoppers were ready with coupons and advertisements in tow.

“I heard from one person that there were people waiting outside as early as three in the morning,” said Betty Clark, a saleswoman at the store My Daughters and Me. Clark said this is the second Black Friday she has worked at Westfield Shoppingtown.

Some businesses used Black Friday as a way to promote featured items. Victoria’s Secret offered model tote bags to shoppers who spent $50 or more. Lerner New York offered the $10 Metro teddy bear to shoppers while jewelry stores such as Kay’s Jewelers and J.B. Robinson featured a $10 teddy bear named “Winter” to raise sales for the Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Other businesses, like Q 92 FM, promoted themselves through free money giveaways. The radio station encouraged listeners to seek out their “mystery shopper” at Westfield Shoppingtown by approaching random shoppers and asking them one question: “Are you the Q 92 Secret Shopper?” More than $1,000 in prizes were awarded to those who could find the mystery shopper in the crowd.

More stores also emerged for the holidays to offer unique gifts. Both Westfield Shoppingtown and Chapel Hill featured kiosks in between shops. Shoppers flocked to stands that sold everything from fancy and fun hats (The Hatterie), sports jerseys (Dog Tags and More), board games and puzzles (Go! The Game Store) and calendars (Day by Day Calendar).

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the busiest shopping day of last year was not Black Friday, but Saturday, Dec.18. In fact, in the last twelve years, the busiest shopping day of the year occurred within the week before Christmas.

Clark said while she doesn’t really remember last Black Friday, the crowds seem to be bigger this year.

“It’s really been a great preseason,” Clark said. “It seems like the season started much earlier this year. Ever since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it has really picked up.”

And the bargains and discounts provide more than enough reason to brave the crowds, according to Witlock.

“You really do save money, which is why I will keep going,” Witlock said. “I mean, $100 off a digital camera and $300 laptops? That’s worth all the standing in the cold and craziness.”

Contact features reporter Michelle Poje at [email protected].