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Holiday shopping ready to get busy

November 26, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Kohl's near Valley Mall was scheduled to open at 4 a.m. Friday, but Store Manager Joe Hamilton expected shoppers to arrive sooner.

He said people line up hours before the doors open and have a good time.

"They're fun people," he said. "They tell jokes. They hide under blankets."

Hamilton said it's a festive, exciting kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.

Like stores across the country, Kohl's was getting an early-morning start. Its "doorbuster" early-bird specials were to begin when the doors opened at 4 a.m.

Wal-Mart in Hagerstown, which stays open 24 hours a day, was planning to start a six-hour sale Friday at 5 a.m.

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Lines began forming by around 11:40 p.m. Thursday at in-store displays of sale merchandise that wouldn't be available until 5 a.m. Friday, according to cashier Stephanie

Dahlweiner.

By 12:45 a.m. Friday, the grocery aisles were nearly deserted, but a steady stream of bargain hunters crowded covered pallets of electronics, toys, DVDs and other items guarded by store employees and Hagerstown Police officers.

"It's never been this chaotic," Dahlweiner said.

Asked to predict Christmas Season 2009, Hagerstown Wal-Mart Store Manager Steven James said, "I think it'll be a good one."

Hamilton said customers openly talked last year about having to cut back on purchases because of the economy, but he's not hearing that talk this year.

"I'm very optimistic," he said.

The International Council of Shopping Centers' and Goldman Sachs' 2009 Holiday Spending Survey found that consumers planned to spend about $543 this holiday season on gifts and another $133 on gift cards.

For the phone survey, 1,000 adults were contacted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1.

Sixteen percent of respondents planned to start their gift shopping Friday, up from 10 percent in 2007 and 2008. The previous high, in 2006, was 13 percent.

"Bargain hunting will continue to be an important element of the consumers' holiday shopping strategy," Michael P. Niemira, the International Council of Shopping Centers' director of research and chief economist, said in an ICSC news release.

Kmart on Massey Boulevard was scheduled to open at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday, said Brian Starr, the store manager.

Valley Mall was to open at 5 a.m. Friday, although individual stores might keep different hours.

"The Valley Mall is expecting between 75,000 and 80,000 shoppers through our doors on Black Friday according to past statistics we've collected through our RCT people-counter system we've used for the past 10 years," Marketing Director Michele Wills said in an e-mail. "Local consumer confidence appears to be increasing and Valley Mall is anticipating retail sales will be flat or slightly higher than last year's holiday season."

She said the mall is focusing on value in its sales and pricing.

For the fourth straight year, Prime Outlets at Hagerstown was holding Midnight Madness Pajama Jam as a lead-in to Black Friday.

Marketing Director Angie Riford said the first 500 people at least 16 years old to show up wearing pajamas would get goodie bags.

Last year, people started lining up at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, she said, and there were 500 people to claim the prizes by 10 p.m.

"They love getting into the spirit of things," Riford said.

Getting ready

Downtown Hagerstown shops have been preparing for a shopping surge, too.

Carol & Company on West Washington Street will have a Christmas countdown special starting Dec. 1. Each day, items with a different theme -- such as, anything related to mittens -- will be 25 percent off, Assistant Manager Jenn Smith said.

When Santa Claus is at Carol & Company on Dec. 4, children will be encouraged to bring a present for the nonprofit Parent-Child Center to distribute, Smith said.

The Potomac Bead Company on the same block will offer snacks to lure customers on Black Friday, Manager Jenni Jones said. Customers will receive a small box of candy, with a coupon tucked inside, with their purchases.

She described the shop's Black Friday sale as "gemstone blowout."

Bikle's Ski & Outdoor Shop on North Potomac Street already has sent out a coupon good through Christmas, said Barbara Tritle, co-owner.

She was expecting Friday's business to be heavier than a normal weekday, but the store usually is busier on the Saturday after Thanksgiving than on Black Friday, Tritle said.

Lori Ruda, manager of Lena's of Hagerstown, said she will be "praying customers come in" Friday, she said.

The last few Black Fridays have been "decent," but there's no way to predict what will happen, Ruda said.

Staff writers Erin Julius and Dave Rhodes contributed to this story

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