If the economy is in the tank and people aren’t spending any money, it would have been hard to tell from the scene at the major retail chains in Grand Rapids Friday morning – Black Friday, the traditional day after Thanksgiving shopping day where shoppers, filled with turkey and pumpkin pie from the day before, are hungry for deals.
Doors opened at Target and K-Mart at 6 a.m., the doors never closed at Wal-Mart, and shoppers looking for everything from electronics, toys, video games and more converged on the stores before the sun was up.
Wal-Mart had special sales starting at 5 a.m. and according to store manager Brandon Sharp, shoppers started showing up at 4:30 a.m.
“It was a tremendous start to the day,” Sharp said. “This was the best start ever.”
This was the largest turnout for Black Friday the Grand Rapids store has seen, he said. It was hard to say if the turnout could be attributed to Wal-Mart’s Black Friday ad, which was three times larger than it has been in the past, or because the store, now a Super Wal-Mart, is larger than previous years.
Sharp said that it takes store workers approximately five to six weeks to prepare for Black Friday. In past years, the store has closed on Thanksgiving for final set up, but this year Wal-Mart was open during Thanksgiving.
Beckie Klebs of Bigfork was one of those shoppers at Wal-Mart early, arriving at 5 a.m. with her two teenage daughters, who were somewhere in the crowd.
“The sales,” she said, laughing when asked what brought her out so early. “There’s great prices, but now we just can’t find them.”
Klebs said she was planning on spending less on Christmas this year than she has in previous years and as she looked at other shoppers looking at displays and filling their carts, she added, “I think everyone is looking for more sales.”
Sharp said after the initial rush – Wal-Mart had 27 registers up and running at 5:30 a.m. with people waiting – they would see shoppers come in waves throughout the day.
At Target, by 5:45 a.m., there was a line of shoppers, waiting for the 6 a.m. door opening, spanning across the front of the building. Tina Rushmeyer of Marble was the first in line. She was there with her niece, Jennifer Rushmeyer of Virginia. They started at Wal-Mart and while Jennifer shopped for a Nintendo Wii for her father, Tina walked to Target, arriving there around 4 a.m. This was Tina’s first time shopping on Black Friday and her goal was to purchase a Guitar Hero game for $59, saving $40.
“It’s very cold,” Tina said, clutching a cup of coffee. “But they [Target employees] brought out coffee.
The two admitted they had a bit of fear about being run over when the doors opened, but when the doors opened at 6 a.m., they did not get bowled over by the half-running, half-walking mass.
About ten minutes later, the two were at the cash registers, Guitar Hero game in hand.
“There were only about 15 of them there,” Tina said as she went to pay for her purchase.
Vicky Harrington of Nashwauk is a devoted Black Friday shopper. As she looked for video games, she explained that she and her husband, Dennis, get up by 5 a.m., head out the door, finish their shopping around 10 a.m., go out for breakfast, then return home and take a nap.
“It’s worth it,” she said. “I’ll pretty much get all my Christmas shopping done today.”
Target store manager Katherine Klingelhut said it took a couple weeks for store employees to prepare for Black Friday and she was pleased with the turnout.
At K-Mart, where doors opened at 6 a.m., store manager Al Bushman said his store saw 245 people in line to enter, which was approximately a 30 percent increase over last year. He added that retailers were worried if customers would be out to buy the big ticket items, but he said that the 20” televisions on sale for $199 at his store “were gone in seconds.”
Jon Schmidt of Marble is a disabled Army veteran on a fixed income and he was at K-Mart to see what specials were available. It was his second Black Friday shopping trip and while he hadn’t purchased anything yet, he was “still browsing.”
“The cheaper prices [on items] I can get, the better,” Schmidt said.
Bushman said he was feeling good about the Christmas shopping season despite the overall gloomy economic outlook. He added that low gas prices were a big help for retailers.
“[We’ll] enjoy it for now,” he said.