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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Holiday shopping season is in full swing
Shoppers search for gifts, deals
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Teresa Arnold of Fieldale takes a break from carrying her packages in Liberty Fair Mall on Friday morning. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

To paraphrase a popular Yuletide carol, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas on Friday - at least in local stores.

Never mind that seasonal weather was nowhere in sight to help get people into the holiday spirit. With sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s, shoppers headed out in full force on "Black Friday."�

Most retailers consider the day after Thanksgiving to be the official start of the Christmas shopping season. It is one of their busiest days all year.

Local stores were adorned with holiday decorations, and their shelves were full of merchandise waiting to be placed in customers' shopping carts and bags.

Kmart on Greensboro Road opened at 5 a.m. Friday. When its doors were unlocked, customers were "lined up past Food Lion" next door, said manager Jeff George.

Electronics were among fast-selling items there. George said children sought game consoles such as Xboxes and Wiis while "grownups were looking for flat-screen TVs."�

Business at Kmart was steady all day.

"We've been much busier than what we were last year" on Black Friday, said George. "That is greatly welcome."�

Employees welcomed the crowd.

"People have been so friendly," said Frances Rieson, a service desk worker.

"We're having a wonderful day," added Darlene Hagood, a front-end associate.

Amy Starnes of Martinsville has done most of her Christmas shopping online. Still, she went to Liberty Fair Mall on Friday to buy shoes, and she said she found exactly the pair she was looking for at a reasonable price.

Due to economic factors, "I'm having to tighten up the budget a little, like everyone else," Starnes said.

The mall was a major draw for shoppers from out of town.

Odelia and Allen Mabe of Reidsville, N.C., said they like the stores at Liberty Fair and prefer to shop there over larger shopping centers - such as ones in the Piedmont Triad - because they do not have to do as much walking.

Area native Antoinette Ingram, who now lives in Maryland, said she always looks forward to shopping at the mall on visits home.

"The prices are cheaper here," she said.

Ingram said she came to the mall to buy children's clothes. She was happy with items she bought and what she paid for them.

"Since they're growing so fast," she said of her kids, she does not want to spend a lot on clothes that they may not wear for very long.

Carolyn Beale of Martinsville viewed prices differently. As she was leaving Kmart, she said, "It seems like stuff this year is higher than it was last year," and that might deter shoppers from buying things.

Liberty Fair Mall opened early Friday to accommodate shoppers who wanted to take advantage of early-bird sales. Some stores opened earlier than others.

Carol Morris, store manager of JC's 5 Star Outlet (formerly JC Penney Outlet), said about 100 people were waiting when that store opened at 3:30 a.m. Friday. Electronics were a popular purchase, she added.

The store is open for extended hours this weekend, and she said shoppers "are coming in with a purpose" - buying rather than browsing.

A few minutes after midnight Friday, there were about a dozen vehicles in the parking lot outside Belk.

Jessica Graham of Belk's corporate offices said store managers were not doing media interviews so they could concentrate on customers. However, she said sales were up Friday at the Martinsville store and company-wide.

"Today was a strong day for us and if current trends continue, we expect a strong holiday season," Graham wrote in an email.

Kelly Rowland, manager of Maurices, a women's clothing store, would have liked to see the mall stores open earlier. She noted that some stores and malls in larger nearby cities opened at midnight, and Walmart - which is open around the clock - started its holiday sales at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Maurices store opened at 6 a.m. Friday. While Rowland was pleased with Maurices' sales as of mid-afternoon, she said she thinks the earlier openings elsewhere "kind of put a damper on our business today." She said Liberty Fair did not appear to get busy until about 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. Friday.

Thursday night, Rowland said, "people stayed up late" to take advantage of Walmart's late sales "and then went home and went to bed," and many of them did not get up on Friday morning to go out to other stores' early-bird sales.

Although Martinsville is a small city and Liberty Fair is a smaller mall than those in larger cities, for local stores to boost their business "we have to follow suit" and do things that malls elsewhere do, she said.

The parking lot at Walmart in Martinsville was full of vehicles shortly after midnight Friday. However, store officials were not giving media interviews during the holiday weekend, according to a recording at the corporate offices.

Heidi Wilson, who runs Keepsakes, a craft kiosk at the mall for the holiday season, said she was pleased with her sales on Friday.

"Definitely a lot of people have been stopping by," she said. Like Rowland, she thought that the mall drew more shoppers later in the morning.

Wilson said, however, that people seemed not to be buying as many things, probably due to economic concerns.

Samantha Campbell, who works at the Intelos kiosk at Liberty Fair Mall, said she "thought it would be busier." Still, she said that her kiosk had a double digit increase in sales Friday when compared with a normal day.

"People are very cautious about their buying" now, said Brenda Patterson, assistant manager of Roses department store on Commonwealth Boulevard.

Roses opened at 8 a.m. Friday.

"We haven't been extremely busy, but we've been pretty busy," Patterson said, adding that sales were "pretty good."�

Clerks at the store said many types of items were selling well, from clothes and toys to Christmas trimmings and artificial flowers.


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