By BY MICKEY POWELL AND PAUL COLLIN - Bulletin Staff Writers
The Christmas shopping season got into full swing this holiday weekend as area residents braved cold weather and headed to stores in search of bargains.
The day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday, traditionally has been when retailers launched Christmas sales, resulting in large crowds. Yet more and more stores now are opening on Thanksgiving itself — late in the day, mostly — to give shoppers a head start on holiday gift-buying.
When Belk at Liberty Fair Mall opened at 8 p.m. Thursday, a line of shoppers wound from the department store’s front entrance down the sidewalk to near JC’s 5 Star Outlet. The outlet waited until Friday morning to open.
A half-hour after opening, Belk was swamped with shoppers, and long lines had formed at each checkout.
Resting on a bench in the mall, Andrea Hairston of Axton said she bought two pairs of boots that were on sale at Belk. However, she said she came to the mall on Thanksgiving night mainly “just for fun and to look at people.”
She was glad to be indoors.
“It’s too cold,” Hairston said after coming in from temperatures in the 30s.
“My feet are thawing out,” Cindy Barbour of Martinsville said, laughing, as she waited in Belk for some family members to join her. She said she was thinking about buying some boots to help her stay warm.
Michelle Beamer of Martinsville waited until Friday to do her shopping.
“I don’t go out during the (Thanksgiving) night,” she said. “I can’t deal with the crowds.”
She was clutching bags containing three pairs of boots she purchased.
Boots have been a popular item at Maurices, a women’s clothing store, along with scarves and sweater dresses, said Store Manager Kelly Flippin.
Maurices was among several other mall stores that opened around the time Belk did Thursday night. Flippin said “a steady flow of people” came in during the first half hour, and some were waiting at the entrance when the store lifted its gates.
Flippin said Maurices saw “busy spurts” on Friday, with more shoppers in the store at certain times than others. She was pleased with holiday crowds, she said, adding it was “absolutely” worth it to open on Thanksgiving.
Kurt Merchant, owner of Jacques Jewelers at the mall, said sales were “very good’ on Friday. He said rain and snow earlier in the week seemed to keep customers away.
“Thank goodness, we’re busy today,” he said.
Jacques plans to go out of business after Christmas. Merchant emphasized that the store is not closing due to economic factors but because after 36 years in the jewelry business, he is ready to do other things.
In an interview on Saturday afternoon, Merchant said of sales: “We’re doing quite well. It’s not too often that a store that has being doing business as long as we have closes its doors.”
“I think the vast majority of the additional business is attributable to the store going out of business sale” as opposed to Black Friday, he said. He added that jewelers around the country have told him that “Black Friday was soft for most of them.”
In terms of sales, “anything electronic is going well,” said Lee Ann Hundley, manager of Roses on Commonwealth Boulevard.
Roses did not offer any “door specials,” so “nobody was knocking down our door” when the store opened at 6 a.m. Friday, Hundley said, laughing.
Still, she said she was pleased with Black Friday crowds, which she noted were especially large between noon and 2 p.m.
Saturday afternoon, Hundley estimated the store’s Black Friday sales this year probably were about 20 percent over last year’s. She added that Saturday’s sales were “pretty good.”
“Our (sales) trend is where we like it to be,” she said.
Marshalls, a new department store at the mall, opened at 7 a.m. Friday “to a slow start,” said Store Manager Sara Thomas. She mentioned that JC’s 5 Star Outlet nearby opened at 5:30 a.m., so customers may have gone there first.
But “we picked up” and business was steady later in the day, Thomas said, adding that Marshalls had met its sales targets for the day by mid-afternoon.
Christmas decorations and toys in particular were “flying out the door,” she said.
“We’ve done well and above what they anticipated” for sales Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Debra Howery, assistant manager at Marshalls, said late Saturday afternoon.
Kmart has been opening on Thanksgiving for more than 20 years, according to published reports.
Martinsville Store Manager Jeff George said business this Thanksgiving seemed “a little slower” than on the same day last year. He could not determine why.
On Black Friday, business at Kmart picked up and “we started rolling,” said Assistant Manager Judy Graham.
Clothes, small appliances, televisions, tablet computers and other electronic goods were among hot-selling items at Kmart over the weekend, George and Graham said.
Late Saturday afternoon, George summarized the holiday sales: Thanksgiving morning did not go “so well; Thanksgiving night was good; Black Friday was good; today (Saturday) has been busy. It’s slacked off a little bit now.”
Business at JC’s — the former Penney’s outlet — was steady throughout the day on Friday, according to store managers who declined to comment further.
The outlet chain has announced plans to close all 15 of its stores nationwide, including the Martinsville location, after Christmas.
An assistant manager at Walmart said, “Sales have been very high. Sales have been very good.” Among the items that sold well were items listed in Black Friday advertising, including electronics, she said.
On what was supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year, many stores in Martinsville’s uptown central business district were closed Friday.
Bill’s Jewelers was one of a few uptown stores that were open. Owner Joan Kochersperger said that while she always opens on Black Friday, in terms of business, “we normally don’t do anything on this day.”
Kochersperger said shoppers seem to prefer to go to large chain stores on Black Friday. She said, though, that she opened her store in case any of her regular customers needed anything.