11/23/06 — Christmas shopping season begins tomorrow

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Christmas shopping season begins tomorrow

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 23, 2006 8:20 AM

Wayne County merchants are ready for the early birds determined to get their hands on a holiday bargain tomorrow morning -- and they are advising Black Friday shoppers to start early, strategize and to make sure they carry a cell phone.

The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday because traditionally it is the day when strong sales erase any weak profits for the year -- and it is the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

And from small-town merchants to chain stores, there will be plenty of bargains to be had for those willing to brave the 5 a.m. opening bells.

For some national chains, the Internet is heralding some of their deals. At J.C. Penney's Web site, shipping will be free tomorrow for orders of at least $49.

Locally, store manager Karen Whit at the Berkeley Mall store has battened down the hatches, waiting for the first eager shoppers.

She said the company's Internet sales have exceeded $1 billion so far this year -- a 20 percent increase.

Her store will open around 4:30 a.m..

She said among those eager shoppers will be some familiar faces -- J.C. Penney employees.

"We'll be here at 3:30 a.m.," Ms. Whit said. "It's one of the biggest days, a day we look forward to. We have a lot of fun with it."

The best selection really is available Friday, Ms. Whit added. So, if there is a gift on a loved one's wish list that is a must-have, getting there early will be the key.

For those who do not do mornings or crowds, J.C. Penney will stay open until 11 p.m.

"It's like when you go grocery shopping at one of those 24-hour stores. If you're not afraid that what you want will be run out, go later," Ms. Whit said. "So be selective in your timing."

Belk in Berkeley Mall will also officially open its doors at 5 a.m. Friday.

Store manager Joe Gambino says smart shoppers will sit down and map out a strategy before they even walk through the door.

"A lot of our shoppers have the sale catalog already in hand," he said, adding that Black Friday shoppers should know where they need to be at what time to get the best deals. His early bird specials run from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m., and those are the hours when his customers do the bulk of their Black Friday shopping.

Target and Kmart lovers can also get their share of holiday bargains. Both open at 6 a.m. -- and Target even has a Starbucks for those who need an early morning jumpstart.

Pier 1 Imports will open at 8 a.m. -- a little bit earlier than usual -- for those who will be ready for a slower pace and a few unusual gift ideas.

Employees at the Roses store in Mount Olive will have a little bit longer to sleep -- or time to do some early bird shopping of their own.

Their store will open at 9 a.m.

And if he were the one doing the shopping, store manager Steve Whitfield said he would wait a bit before venturing out.

Mid-morning will be the best time, he said, especially since the weather is supposed to be sketchy.

"Don't rush. It looks like the weather won't be great. Be very safe," he said.

And if you plan to head to Roses, stay alert, Whitfield advised. There will be some surprise deals that did not arrive in time to be advertised.

But most importantly, Whitfield said, shop with a little Christmas spirit.

"Don't get mad if somebody gets it before you," he said.

He has never had the problem in his store, but he said he has seen customers at other businesses almost get into fights over missed bargains.

And just like his other male counterparts, Whitfield said he will leave early morning shopping to the professionals.

He will be out when the other shoppers are not -- after the morning rush or late at night.

And those professionals -- seasoned early bird shoppers -- have some advice for those who will venture out for their first holiday bargain hunt.

Visitors to www.dealtaker.com say having fun is the key -- and remembering that missing a bargain is not the end of the world.

Plan your stops, divide and conquer and keep your cell phone handy to communicate with shopping companions. At the end of the day, gather back at an appointed spot and review your spoils.

You might have captured more than you think.