Bargain hunters crowd stores open on Thanksgiving

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Bargain hunters crowd stores open on Thanksgiving

Tim Feran

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Black Friday's new, earlier face looked quite similar to its old face, with throngs of shoppers lined up in anticipation of big sales.

The main difference this year, of course, was that the openings came early on Thanksgiving night rather than early Friday morning.

As more than a dozen major retailers from Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving, people across the country got a jump start on holiday shopping. The openings came despite planned protests across the country from workers' groups that are against employees missing Thanksgiving meals at home.

At 4:25 p.m. yesterday, employees at the Toys R Us on Sawmill Road were handing out coupons to about 150 shoppers who patiently waited in the cold for the 5 p.m. opening.

"You came for the crazies," said a shivering Brandy Bobek of Hilliard, who staked a spot as first in line at 2 p.m., wrapped in a blanket. Unlike shoppers last year at the same store who had waited in line more than a day, Bobek had no interest in pulling an all-nighter for toy bargains.

"No, I'm not that crazy," she said, her teeth chattering.

Bobek, who had "a whole list" of toys she planned to buy for her 3-year-old daughter, said the opening on Thanksgiving wasn't an issue.

"It doesn't matter to me," she said. "We did have to switch our Thanksgiving to Friday because I host it."

In fact, she saw the earlier opening as a good thing. "Last year, I had to wait in the back of the line. This year, I was first, so this is better."

Toys R Us was just her first stop. She also planned to visit Kohl's and JCPenney that evening, " and then, I don't know. Last year, I was out pretty much all night. This year, maybe I'll be out until 2."

Bobek said her boyfriend was also first in line -- at the Target in Lewis Center.

"He's there for the 50-inch TV they're selling for $230. He got a tip no one would be there, so he's first in line."

Big-screen TV deals at Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy attracted big crowds, who showed up early for the best selection.

Retailers who were more focused on selling clothes were slower to gain traction. At 6 p.m., fewer than 10 shoppers stood outside Kohl's on Sawmill, and the same number waited outside Old Navy nearby. Many shoppers, aware that they would likely have little competition to nail down clothing bargains, waited until shortly before the 8 p.m. openings to flood the parking lots.

Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales last year: Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year, according to the Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, although it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

"Black Friday is now Gray Friday," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "It's been pulled all the way to the beginning of November."

Two hours before Target's 8 p.m. opening, at least 40 people were in line at the Sawmill Road store, many waiting to get their hands on the 50-inch sets.

"I like 'em big," said Mike Garvey of Delaware, who arrived at 6:30 a.m. to be first in line.

"That's the hot commodity, the 50-inch TV," said Toni Margello of New Albany, who was second in line at Target. "What's not to like?"

Half an hour after the Best Buy near the Mall at Tuttle Crossing opened its doors, hundreds of people were still queued up outside the front door, while at least 500 people were already inside shopping, general manager Mark Fetterman said.

Richie Knisley and Josh Czerpak, both of Hilliard, had two 55-inch TVs that they were struggling to load into Knisley's 2013 Hyundai Elantra.

"I'm 19," Knisley said. "This year, I got an apartment and I've got to furnish it, you know what I'm saying?"

The friends were unable to load even one of the sets into the car. Czerpak pulled out his phone.

"I'm going to get my friend's mom; she's got an SUV," he said.

The two friends had waited in line "only like an hour," Knisley said, but they had arrived early in anticipation of getting a TV.

"I thought they'd only have like three sets," Knisley said. "But I bet they had 60."

The two friends shook their heads as they looked at the big boxes.

"Sucks -- you can't fit your brand new TV in your brand new car," Czerpak said.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.


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