Shoppers Get a Head Start on Holiday Gifts with Black Friday Sales

Brian Thompson stood huddled with his friends along the brick wall at Best Buy. It was 4:47 a.m., 13 minutes before the store was scheduled to open, but the late-November wind of Michigan was cutting through his Michigan State pajama pants.

He and a few dozen others were in line to take advantage of the early morning sales, many to get a jump on their holiday gift lists on the biggest shopping day of the year. Thompson was there for himself.

“I’ll get to my list later,” he said.

Some shoppers showed up at the Southfield, Mich., store directly from Thanksgiving Day parties while others had taken a nap after eating dinner with family. Some looked chipper and ready for action, as others leaned against the building and yawned in between conversations with the people next to them in line.

When the doors open, a few people pushed and shoved, but there was little incident. Most shoppers, like Thompson, had a plan of action. He rushed directly to the video games and snatched up a Nintendo Wii Guitar Hero III Legends of Rock set.

“I probably should have grabbed these last,” he said, struggling to lug the long, rectangular box through the store.

Thompson picked up a few CDs on his way to the cash register where a line had already begun to form. About 10 minutes later, he was loading the merchandise into his car.

“In and out, just how I like,” he said, jumping in his car. He waited for his friends to finish their shopping and then headed to another store.

All over the country, stores braced for the annual Black Friday rush.

“We expect a pretty big crowd and a line outside when we open our doors,” said Danielle Dardungo, a manager at a Columbia, S.C., Target store.

“We don’t even call it Black Friday, we call it Green Friday. It’s a tradition for a lot of people and I believe the day encourages shoppers.”

The store was scheduled to open at 6 a.m., with employees ready to keep the store sufficiently staffed for the entire day.

They know that shoppers like Gwendolyn Parker, 43, would be ready for some heavy-duty shopping.

“This is when I get a good bulk of my Christmas shopping done and with the way the country is, we gonna need some deals so I don’t have to leave anyone of my list,” Parker said, laughing. “I plan to get up early and hopefully I can everything I want and not be in line for a long time.”

The impact the economy will have on stores during this year’s holiday shopping season is yet to be seen.

The turnout Eric Perkins saw in Baltimore while he shopped from 5 a.m. to noon didn’t paint a promising picture for retailers.

“I will say it was smaller than last year. I thought it was actually funny that people were actually running to the electronics,” Perkins said. “It was a bad day to do some shopping because everybody was there to do the same thing.” Contrarily, ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based market-research company, reported a 3 percent increase in Black Friday sales from 2007 nationally. Shoppers spent an estimated $10.6 billion despite the struggling economy, but ShopperTrak co-founder Bill Martin, warned that those numbers may not carry through the rest of the shopping season.

“While this is an encouraging start for retailers, there’s no guarantee these deep discounts will continue after Black Friday weekend, which could slow spending,” Martin said in a statement. “Additionally, consumers have just 27 days to shop this year as opposed to 32 in 2007, which may catch some procrastinating consumers off guard, leading to lower sales levels.”

–Additional reporting by Sean Woolford and Allexthea Carter.