Retailers ring in shopping season

Juneau stores set to open in pre-dawn hours for Black Friday

Posted: Friday, November 27, 2009

Juneau retailers opened their doors in the wee hours this morning as Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season.

Store owners and managers report feeling optimistic about spending this year, hoping to better last season's performance when sales nationwide were down about 6 percent.

"Last year, people were starting to pull back at this time. We saw our sales drop off, but it looks like we're pulling out of it now and people are out spending again," said Bill Wright, owner of Gourmet Alaska in the Nugget Mall.

Black Friday ushers in the traditional start of the holiday shopping season with deep discounts on everything from electronics to Christmas decorations.

Fred Meyer, known for its socks sale on Black Friday, opened at 5 a.m.

"We are optimistic" about consumer spending this year, said Melinda Merrill, public affairs director for Fred Meyer stores. "Our back-to-school and Halloween shopping season were strong, and those can be good predictors of how the holidays will be."

Fred Meyer has 130 stores in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Merrill said food sales for Thanksgiving also were great, "so that may be an indicator for how customers will spend in the next few weeks."

Hallmark's nationwide open house at the beginning of November created some optimism for card shop owner Marilyn Josephson in the Nugget Mall.

"We did really well," she said of the sale that provided a free gift to customers that spent $40 or more. Still, she tries not to worry too much about holiday sales, she said. "The worry part doesn't do you any good."

Black Friday is so-named because it's traditionally when shoppers push stores into profitability, or "the black." It has been the busiest day of the year for much of the last decade, but competes with the Saturday before Christmas for the top slot.

National sales the Thanksgiving weekend last year fell 1 percent. Shoppers cut back more as the season went on, and sales ended up down 6.3 percent for the last two months of the year.

The National Retail Federation trade group predicts bigger crowds this year, but many analysts expect sales for the weekend to be unchanged compared with last year.

Big box retailers, malls and other stores in Juneau opened as early as 4 or 5 this morning to greet shoppers looking for "door buster" sales that have come to define Black Friday.

The Mendenhall Mall opened at 4 a.m. for Sears.

The mall's anchor department store, Gottschalks, closed this year but Spenser Johnson, an employee of nearby Sequence, said the closure hasn't affected business at the snowboard and skate shop.

Vintage Fare, a coffee shop at the Nugget Mall, opened at 5:30 today to serve customers waiting for stores to open. Radio Shack and Jo-Ann's opened by 6 a.m., and the rest of the mall opened its doors at 7, said mall Marketing Director Stacey Poulson.

"It's crazy, there are lines," Poulson said of Black Friday events that include coupons, giveaways and donuts.

Poulson said she started to feel optimism for the holiday shopping season after an arts and crafts show last weekend brought people to the mall.

"I've heard from a couple of stores that people are starting to buy for Christmas," she said.

Downtown stores will be open today, and locals are expected to be in the area for a public market.

But Downtown Business Association President Larry Spencer said the kick-off for holiday shopping around the Capitol has traditionally been the weekend of Gallery Walk.

Gallery Walk is scheduled for Dec. 4-5, when store owners are encouraged to have Christmas lights in windows, carolers roam the streets and food and drinks are offered in many shops, Spencer said.

"Although the box stores seem to do better on the day after Thanksgiving, the downtown tends to start sparkling for Gallery Walk," Spencer said. "For unique collectibles or one-of-a-kind clothing items and gifts, that's our specialty downtown. Not a thousand widgets at deep discounts."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Kim Marquis at523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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