Season's peak for power shoppers

Crowds of consumers lined up for pre-dawn openings to get the best deals

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

At a time when most people are sleeping off their Thanksgiving excesses, a few waited in Juneau's blustery weather to get the first crack at holiday sales.

Erin Heywood said she and her family are "extreme power shoppers." They waited about 40 minutes for Fred Meyer's 6 a.m. opening.

But she paled in comparison to the roughly 50 people who lined up for Kay-Bee Toy's 5 a.m. opening in the Nugget Mall. While the rest of the mall was cordoned off, dozens of people filled their 3-foot bags with Barbies, scooters, robot dogs and games.

The early opening was not just a local phenomenon. Nationally Kay-Bee is supposed to open an hour before its mall counterparts to get a jump on the competition, said Rob Lee, an assistant manager in the Juneau store.

 

The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year across the nation.

Opening stores at 6 a.m. or earlier has been around at least five years, said Terri Bartlett, spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America. This year the event has changed somewhat, she said.

Retailers are advertising more events to make shopping more fun, especially for mothers, Bartlett said.

But behind that fun is the serious business of selling. The Christmas shopping season accounts for about 20 percent of the year's business for non-anchor tenants in malls, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

This morning, Dieanna Browne and Erin Ryder were the first in line at the Nugget Mall for the Kay-Bee opening. They started waiting at 4:30 a.m. in a strong chilly wind for the 5 a.m. opening.

"I'm a three-year veteran of this," Ryder said. "It's just fun."

Right behind them were Wendy Cole and her mom, Lynn Van Kirk, who came early to take advantage of the well-stocked shelves.

"Everything's gone by 5:30 (a.m.)," Cole said.

Bill Walton stood in line with his wife waiting to shop for their grandchildren. "Our kids aren't smart like we are," he said.

Sales for the Juneau store have been "huge" for the past couple of years, but November sales through Wednesday were only about 2 percent above last year, Lee said. The lack of a marquee draw like the Tickle Me Elmo has hurt the holiday season sales some, he said.

Nationally, holiday sales are expected to be about the same as last year, Bartlett said.

"We've had a not-such-a-great-year up to this point," she said. "We are looking for a strong holiday season."

Retailers are coming off a great year in which sales growth was 7.8 percent, Bartlett said.

"If we're able to maintain the (same) level as last year's sales, I think we'll be doing pretty good," she said.

Holiday sales are fueled by hot items and the 2000 hot item seems to be the several different brands of robotic dogs that hit the market recently, Bartlett said.

The dogs are generally silver robot-looking toys that are able to walk, bark and learn some commands.

Besides the dogs, Pokemon Gameboy games and scooters are selling well, Lee said. Scooters, which look like modified skateboards with handlebars, have received some bad publicity over safety concerns and that has kept them from becoming the hot-ticket item this year, he said.

Over at Fred Meyer, the parking lot was jammed and shopping aisles were packed with people by 6:30 a.m. including some of the early shoppers at Kay-Bee Toys, about half of whom said they would head over to Fred Meyer right afterward.

The store had about 150 people working and was going to have all 23 of its cash registers open to handle the crush of customers, said manager Fred Sayre.

Unlike at Kay-Bee, most people at Fred Meyer were not buying toys, but were there for the dozens of discounted everyday items such as pillows and socks.

Louise Seligman, who was in with Erin Heywood and several other family members, said they were there to buy a television, sheets, towels and "a year's supply of socks."



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