11/24/11 — Stores set for Friday crowd

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Stores set for Friday crowd

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on November 24, 2011 5:09 AM

Holiday shopping seems to always focus on what's new and innovative, but merchants this year appear to be taking cues from shopping days gone by with a big emphasis on low prices and even the return of layaway.

Randy Galloway, the store manager of the Rosewood Walmart, said the return of layaway has been a smashing success.

Items that qualify, like toys and electronics, can be held at the store for 10 percent of the purchase price, plus a $5 service charge. The total amount of purchases must be more than $50 and each item must cost $15 or more.

The service began Oct. 17 and final payments and pickup must be made by Dec. 16. Layaway will not be offered Friday, Nov. 25, otherwise known as Black Friday.

"It has been very successful," Galloway said, although the reintroduction of the service meant his associates needed to be trained on the policy. "This store is in its fourth year. It never opened with layaway so the other store was probably more prepared."

Still, he and his staff view the extra training as a small sacrifice to make the shopping season a little easier on customers struggling through tough economic times.

"We've gotten very positive comments from customers and it helps them make their Christmas a little better," he said.

Still, there's no doubt that no matter how much shopping is done ahead of time, people will arrive in droves the day after Thanksgiving to take in the deals that have become associated with Black Friday -- the day when retailers seek to entice shoppers to buy, bringing stores' profits out of the red and into the black.

Karen Witt, store manager of the Berkeley Mall JCPenney, said the store has hired an additional 40 associates in anticipation of the huge number of shoppers that will invade the mall that day.

"It is a major overhaul for the store to get ready for that event," she said. "We'll have big sales and we'll be opening probably about 3:30 a.m. although the flyers say we'll open at 4 a.m. Our competition is opening up even earlier."

Ms. Witt said her store will have food delivered to feed her workers during the shopping rush, saying planning for the event was in high gear as early as the first week of November.

Still, she understands that in tough economic times, the big sellers will likely be practical items.

"I see people buying sentimental and emotional things," she said. "But that's just my own observation. My sales of clothing and crockpots and grills and cookers are going very well, but people are cautious about jewelry because money is so scarce and gold is high."

It's not that luxuries aren't in high demand, she said, it's just that shoppers are more likely to think twice and try to sniff out a deal when it comes to purchasing them.

"They're very cautious. They're buying it, but there's a cautious market in that type of merchandise."

Jan Luttrell, manager of Berkeley Mall, said the mall will open up at 5 a.m., though Belk will open its doors at 3 a.m., with JCPenney opening up sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. and Sears opening at 4 a.m.

Additional security will be on hand, as well as maintenance staff to help with the rush throughout the morning, she said. Mrs. Luttrell also said she'll be at the mall when it opens to provide doughnuts to the merchants.

"Basically the day is all about good deals and shopping. We're just looking forward to everybody seeing what we have," she said.

But for those wary of crowds, she said the mall will have extended hours on Saturday, with many of the department stores extending their hours on Sunday as well. The mall will operate on normal schedule until mid-December, she said.

Local merchants are gearing up for the holiday shopping season, too, and while national chains will extend their hours and offer deep discounts on electronics, toys and other goods, local businesses are finding their own ways to bring customers in for the unofficial first day of the holiday shopping season.

Mike Wiggins, owner of Bicycle World and The Outdoor Shop on East Ash Street, said his store will have deals and drawings for prizes on Black Friday. He said he anticipates a busy shopping season.

"So far all the signs are that we should be busy," he said. "Things are looking up retail-wise, and I think it should be better than last year. We should be able to sustain a little bit of growth from the previous year to this year."

Wiggins said the store's winter apparel typically moves quickly as coats and jackets make great gifts, and while there are other options to buy from larger stores, Wiggins said he hopes Wayne County residents will choose to patronize his shop and other small businesses in the area -- a sentiment shared by Wayne County Chamber of Commerce President Marian Mason.

"Because of lingering unemployment there is some soft consumer confidence. The chamber is taking the stand that if people would shop local, it certainly will help our own local economy," she said. "We encourage people to look first to Wayne County businesses before shopping outside of the county. It really does affect Wayne County. It really does make a difference."

And shopping local has its perks, too, shop owners insist, especially in the form of customer service. Best and Sauls Menswear on East Ash Street and Just For You Card and Gift Shop on Spence Avenue offer gift wrapping on top of sales and service that only small stores can provide.

Just For You owner Faye Ward said she felt shoppers would begin swarming her store in December as she said her customer base typically waits until the holiday gets closer to shop.

"December will be a busy month with sales," she said.

But Thanksgiving weekend will bring in a lot of customers, too, especially since there will be a special sale on one of her store's hottest selling lines: Vera Bradley handbags and accessories.

Retired colors and styles will be available for 25 percent off after Thanksgiving, she said, and if customers spend $100 or more on regular-priced Vera Bradley merchandise on Black Friday they will receive a free holiday tote.

Still, for Jerry Best, owner of Best and Sauls, only time will tell whether this shopping season will be a bounce back from disappointing retail sales in previous years.

"I'm hoping it's going to be good, and I've got a feeling it will be, but business is funny now. It's hard to project what it's going to be to tell you the truth. There's no real pattern," he said, noting that certain days and weeks are busy while others are quiet. "It's just hard to say, but I'll just hope for the best. I think it will be better than last Christmas."