Holiday shoppers start early

November 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

The streets in downtown Hagerstown were quiet Friday morning.

That meant that on one of the country's busiest shopping days, while stores at area shopping centers were booming, workers in retail stores in the city's core quietly were waiting for the few customers they expected to see.

Jim Baker, owner of Hoffman Clothiers on North Potomac Street, said it's something he and other owners downtown have to prepare for every year.

"Downtown hasn't been a high-traffic place for years," Baker said. He said he does not expect to see a lot of new faces this year, and the ones who do come through his door can expect a friendly handshake and an annual birthday card with a coupon to try to lure the customers back.


Baker's store, while profitable, was not slammed with customers, and he didn't expect it to be. But, he said, he would love a day like that.

"Are you kidding me? I'd certainly embrace that. ... Sometimes I think (customers) forget about us," Baker said.

While the pace was slow downtown, area shopping centers were busy.

A few miles away along Garland Groh Boulevard, the access road for the Centre at Hagerstown, traffic was heavy going into and out of the parking lots.

Lori Sheffler, 40, of Hagerstown, and Karen Vogel, 37, of Smithsburg, finished shopping at Wal-Mart just after 1 p.m. The women said they had been out since 5 a.m., when they started their day at Valley Mall.

"It was just tremendously crowded," Sheffler said. The two had spent 1 hour and 40 minutes in one line as a favor to a friend who needed a Nintendo Game Cube. They stopped at Kmart and a restaurant before driving to Wal-Mart, their final destination for the day.

The two said there's one major reason why they spent their day at the malls and not downtown Hagerstown.

"Prices," Vogel said. "You don't get these prices downtown. ... You're gonna pay a lot of money."

Shoppers at other area retail centers described similar enthusiasm on the day after Thanksgiving.

At Valley Mall, Wes Steinacker, 46, of Hagerstown, summarized his shopping experience.

"Crazy. It's packed in here," said "I was in line to get a sandwich for 30 minutes."

Ariel Smith, 21, of Baltimore, and her mother were taking time to relax Friday afternoon at Prime Outlets off Sharpsburg Pike.

"It's been crazy but it's been good," Smith said. The two had driven about 70 miles for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales, but she said she didn't want to shop on Black Friday again.

"I can't deal with all the people at once," Smith said.

The Washington-based National Retail Federation projects total nationwide sales, excluding restaurant and auto sales, will increase 4.5 percent for November and December. That would be less than the 5.1 percent gain of a year ago.

Last year, retailers' efforts to get shoppers to buy early worked. During the 2003 holiday shopping season, the busiest day was the Friday after Thanksgiving, instead of the last Saturday before Christmas, which has been the busiest during the last 10 years, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

In downtown Hagerstown, the uptick in holiday sales was not yet noticeable for two new business owners.

Wesley and Maria Weese are the owners of Beautiful Sky Gifts on North Potomac Street. The store, open since Nov. 9, is dedicated to all-natural bath and body products.

The two said they aren't relying on the holiday season to make their sales goals, but rather word-of-mouth, local advertising and Internet sales.

Over the course of about a half hour, one couple came in and bought a small bag of items, and a woman peeked her head in to look around but didn't buy anything.

Looking out the store window just before noon Friday, the Weeses faced empty sidewalks.

"I'm guessing the city (government) must be off today," Wesley Weese said. "There's usually a lot more hustle and bustle."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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