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Christmas shopping season gets off to rousing start

November 29, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Hagerstown sisters Brenda McCarney and Krendra Shindledecker always wondered what was all the fuss about shopping the day after Thanksgiving, so Friday they found out for themselves.

"We're insane," joked Shindledecker, 34, standing the midst of bustling humanity at Valley Mall in Halfway.

"I just wanted to see how crazy it was," said McCarney, 36.

Throughout the Tri-State area Friday shoppers swarmed to malls, department stores, discount centers and shops on Black Friday - what is commonly considered the busiest shopping day of the year.

"Things are fantastic. This is stronger traffic that we've had in many years," said Tim Nolan, manager of Valley Mall.

The mall's department stores typically open at 7 a.m., with shoppers "filtering" into the shops by 8 a.m., Nolan said. But this year the mall was filled by 8 a.m., he said.

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Business was so strong that the mall had to limit access into Kay-Bee Toys, which was packed with shoppers.

"We never had to do that in the past, but there were more people than could fit in the store," Nolan said.

Ron Formosa, manager of Chambersburg Mall in Scotland, Pa., said he was seeing the biggest day-after-Thanksgiving crowds in two years. Lines began forming outside the mall at 4 a.m., he said.

"I have to say the economy is pretty strong, people have some money and they are going to spend it, hopefully," Formosa said.

"It's wonderful. We've had some nice traffic," said Elaine Bobo, marketing director of Martinsburg (W.Va.) Mall.

Several people said they were lured into shopping because they had the day off from work and wanted to take advantage of the various sales and promotions many stores offered.

Dana Barnhart of Martinsburg went to Valley Mall with her fiance because they wanted to finish their shopping before their Dec. 12 wedding date.

"We had to get it done before it's the last minute," said Barnhart, 26, taking a break on a mall bench after filling three shopping bags of gifts.

Barnhart said the crowds were not too bad and there was no trouble finding a place to park.

McCarney agreed.

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," she said.

The National Retail Federation is predicting a 4 percent increase in holiday spending over last year - "a pretty solid but probably not spectacular" season, said spokeswoman Pamela Rucker.

Strong economic indicators are no guarantee that shoppers are going to empty their purses and wallets en masse, Rucker said.

"The big unknown this year ... is the continuing unpredictability of consumer behavior," she said.

Rucker added that it is difficult to forecast the season based on one day of shopping. While the Friday after Thanksgiving usually has the most shoppers of any one day of the year, the most money spent during one day usually takes place the Saturday before Christmas, she said.

In downtown Hagerstown, Hoffman Clothiers owner Jim Baker said he had a busy morning before business leveled off in the afternoon, which is "par for the course" the day after Thanksgiving.

"We're kind of a specialty pocket, so you can't compare us with the other stores," Baker said.

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