Businesses: Black Friday brisk, but not overwhelming

Local business owners say shopping weaker than in years past

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008

There's no way around conspicuous consumption when it involves carting a 42-inch flat screen television across the Wal-Mart parking lot.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Michael Mitchell's irrepressible grin as he loaded the box on to his pickup telegraphed his words: "I'd say I'm proud."

Mitchell, a federal employee, said he felt good about waiting for Black Friday deals to buy a replacement for his old tube TV. He said he was ready to call it a day by 10:45 that morning, while his wife and daughter kept on shopping.

Shopping in Juneau appeared brisk but not frenzied after Thanksgiving on Friday, which is typically the busiest shopping day of the year. The Juneau Police Department had no shopping-related incidents to report, unlike law enforcement in the lower 48 states who were called out to keep the peace among crowds camped out for early morning deals in many cities and suburbs. One New York police department even had an apparent death by trampling to investigate at a Wal-Mart.

In Juneau, the government worker demographic seemed particularly secure in their shopping.

"If the economy's up or down, it's all the same to me," said Roger Hayward, a state worker, on his way out of the Nugget Mall. He said he wasn't planning on changing his spending habits this holiday season.

Kimberly Clark, Hayward's sister, had a different attitude about her shopping.

"I've really got to watch for sales. I don't pay full price for anything anymore," she said.

Teressa Ford sauntered out of Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts with a pair of oversized plush teddy bears, one in each arm. Both were bound for a charity toy bin.

"There's so many (needy) kids, especially with the economy the way it is now. And Christmas is important for kids," Ford said.

Ford, also a state employee, said she hadn't personally been affected by the economic downturn but was cutting back on her spending this year because she thinks she overdid it last year.

Retiree Dianne Caldwell said the unusually large Alaska Permanent Fund dividends this year had cushioned some of her economic concerns.

"I think it changes your habits, but I don't think we're panicked," she said. "There'll be more shopping."

The National Retail Federation forecast a weaker post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend over last year. Survey results published in a press release Monday predicted up to 128 million people would shop Friday, Saturday or today, down from the 135 million people last year. In a press release Friday, the federation estimated that holiday sales would rise 2.2 percent this year, the slowest growth since 2002.

Locally, that seemed apparent at the Nugget Mall, which was sedate at 10 a.m. Friday. At any given moment, there were only about a dozen people on the promenade. Only a few stores had steady lines.

Deb Reifenstein, co-owner of Hearthside Books, said her Friday morning looked weaker compared to years past but that the store was doing well overall for the year.

"Books do well in a down economy. ... And there's so many good books out - the 'Twilight' series, books by local Alaskan authors. ... Usually, they say this is the best day of the year, but for us it's the last week before Christmas," she said.

Reifenstein also said she has kept the staff smaller than usual to keep costs down this year.

Bill Wright, who owns and operates Gourmet Alaska with his wife, said he was busy when he opened Friday thanks to a "doorbuster" promotion, but that business died off as the morning wore on.

The local big-box stores seemed to fare better, with solid crowds, near-capacity parking lots and steady lines.

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