Valley Mall shoppers seek value, convenience

November 27, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

HAGERSTOWN -- The recession didn't stop bargain hunters from hitting retail stores before sunrise on Black Friday, but several seasoned shoppers at Valley Mall in Hagerstown said the crowd seemed thinner than in previous years.

"I thought there were a lot more people last year," said Bonnie Cusic of Hagerstown.

Cusic and a group of friends who began shopping at 5 a.m. at Kohl's in Crosspoint Shopping Center said they would likely continue to make the rounds at various stores all day.

Cusic's friend, Misty Trite of Smithsburg, said she does the majority of her Christmas shopping in bits and pieces throughout the year, rather than wait until Black Friday.

"It's easier that way ... cheaper, too," Trite said.

Roy and Melody Speaker of Hagerstown venture out amid throngs of shoppers every Black Friday, not necessarily to buy themselves but to people-watch.


"It doesn't seem as busy as last year. Just like with the parking, it's not as difficult," Melody Speaker said.

Valley Mall opened at 5 a.m., and 75,000 to 80,000 people were expected to walk through the doors before closing time, between 9 and 11 p.m. depending on the store, Marketing Director Michele Wills said.

The projections were based on the mall's RCT people-counter system used in previous years.

Instead of a mad dash for stores as in previous years, early-morning crowds of shoppers seemed to be milling through the mall in a "more orderly fashion" Friday morning, general manager Julie Rohm said.

"There's been a steady amount, but not lines out the stores like previous years," said Terrie Shank, FFA advisor at Clear Spring High School, who was supervising students at the American Red Cross giftwrapping booth in the mall, something she's done for the past 10 years.

"Really, it doesn't seem quite as busy," Shank said.

Eager shoppers waiting to take advantage of "doorbuster" sales and other discounts still lined sidewalks outside the mall before the doors opened, but the crowd wasn't as large as Kelly Samretzkey, 16, of Shepherdstown, W. Va., remembers from the past three years of pre-dawn shopping on Black Friday.

Samretzky said she, her sister, and their aunt and mother began their day at 4 a.m., waiting in a line at Kohl's in Ranson, W.Va., that stretched around the outside of the building.

Though they usually come armed with a list of people for whom they need to buy gifts, this year they decided to just "go with the flow," Samretzky said.

Though she admittedly spent the morning taking advantage of clothing sales, Samretzky said she thinks the economic downturn is affecting the way people do their Christmas shopping this year.

Wills said stores in the mall were careful to advertise lower prices in prominent locations outside to attract consumers that might be thriftier than those in previous years.

"I think people are going for value and convenience," Wills said.

Shank said she found herself wrapping more practical gifts Friday morning than she can remember from previous years -- clothing, household items, blankets and more family-oriented board games than high-priced toys.

Cindy Matthews, who spends every Friday after Thanksgiving shopping with her 20-year-old daughter, Ashley, said she's giving more gift cards this year because of their practicality.

"I'd rather buy something they can use than something that's just going to sit in the closet," Matthews said.

At Target in Crosspoint Shopping Center, the majority of 'doorbuster" items, such as $3 toasters and low-priced DVD players and televisions, sold out within the first hour, manager Dustan Black said.

"Some didn't even last 20 minutes," Black said.

Sue Snyder of Hagerstown said she found herself buying more practical gifts this year, such as clothing, and that she was trying to restrict the amount of money she spent on each person.

"People's wallets just aren't as full," said Courtney Hutchinson of Williamsport, after leaving Target late Friday morning.

Hutchinson said she's had to limit her gift-buying this year to close relatives.

Several shoppers reported cutting back on the amount of people on their gift list, and others described creative ways of keeping gift-buying to a minimum.

Cindy Matthews said she and her circle of friends agreed to celebrate by going out to eat together instead of buying one another presents.

Melody Speaker said her family decided on a gift exchange, with each person drawing a name of someone to buy for so they only had to shop for one other relative, but everyone still received a present.

"All the kids are adults now, so it seemed to make sense," Roy Speaker said.

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