Scenes from the shopping front: After early start, crowds thin out

BOB STEPHENS AND NED B. HUNTER Updated: November 23, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: November 23, 2012

With Black Friday coming earlier and earlier — some major retailers this year opened their doors as early as 8 p.m. Thursday with Black Friday deals — many bargain hunters hit the stores before going to bed instead of after.

For those who waited until Friday itself to do Black Friday shopping, there were still bargainsto be held but the crowds were less.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the unofficial start of the holiday shipping season; it was dubbed Black Friday to reflect the black ink accountants use to indicate profit. With millions across the country lining up outside stores on Thursday night, the intrusion of Black Friday into the Thanksgiving holiday is likely to stay.

“Like pumpkin pie and football, Thanksgiving Day shopping is quickly becoming a holiday tradition for millions of Americans,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

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Dave and Daniel  Wetlesen walked out of Best Buy on Friday just as the morning sun began scraping the tip of Pikes Peak.

The father and son team started their holiday shopping at the Air Force Base Exchange at 4 a.m., then hit Wal-Mart  at 5 a.m. and the Best Buy across from the Chapel Hills Mall on the north side of Colorado Springs about 20 minutes later.

Dave Wetlesen, 56, said it took about 10 minutes for he and his son to secure a notebook computer and some software at the Best Buy. Total spent: $340.

“There was nobody in there,” Dave Wetlesen said.

That’s because the crowd was there a lot earlier. About 1,500 to 1,700 people were in line when the store opened at midnight Thursday, a manager said.

Daniel Wetlesen, 13, said he had a successful shopping morning. Not only did he acquire the notebook computer he needed for school, he also managed to find one of the season’s more popular video games.

“I got the PS3 Lego Batman game,” he said, smiling.  
 
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First in line at the J.C. Penney store on Powers Bouelvard on Colorado Springs’ east side, nearly four hours before the doors were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. Friday, was the trio of Rachel Vigil, her mom Rosemary and fiance Anthony Trujillo.

“I buy for the tree at church — coats and socks and toys,” Rosemary Vigil said. “I’ve done it early like this the last five years.”

The trio shopped at Wal-Mart and Kohl’s before taking their spot outside the doors at J.C. Penney.

“People in front of us at Wal-Mart let family members join them in line and they got 12 (televisions),” Rosemary Vigil said. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”

Trujillo, 27, was smiling but said he didn’t intend to be outside a store in the middle of the night, trying to stay warm.

“Every year I say I’m not going to do this and end up here again,” he said.

“We did most of our shopping online,” said Rachel Vigil, 25. “Most of the doorbusters are online. We’re here for little stuff now. It’s fun. This year it’s really nice because there’s no real pushing and shoving.”

When the doors opened at 5:52 a.m., about 250 people were in line.

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Teri Putman, store manager at the J.C. Penney on Power, said she’s worked 33 Black Fridays. This was a good one for her.

“I’m very pleased,” she said. “Last year we opened the doors at 4 (a.m.) and people showed up then but they weren’t waiting in line ahead of time. This was beyond my expectations. I was a little worried with other stores opening (Thursday).”

She said J.C. Penney bosses thought it was important to not open on the holiday.

“We wanted to let our employees enjoy Thanksgiving and their families,” Putman said. “They appreciated that. Everybody in the break room was very thankful they didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving.”

J.C. Penney didn’t offer “doorbusters,” Putman said, but “about everything is 30 percent off” until 11 p.m. Friday.

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Danny and Samantha Au shared a cigarette outside The Citadel mall early Friday before heading inside to hunt for bargains on jeans.

The couple were at the mall early not because they live to shop, but because their 18-moth-old daughter doesn’t allow them to sleep late.

“She wakes up at 5:30 (a.m.) every morning,” Samantha Au, 30, said, “so we just came out to see what they have on sale.”

Danny Au, 27,  figured the couple would spend about $200 on clothing, hoping to save at least 25 percent off the normal price. That’s about all the couple was looking for Friday. Both Danny and Samantha Au are Air Force medics who are being sent to Ohio within the next few weeks.

“So we don’t want to have to pack a bunch of stuff,” Samantha Au said.

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Outside Old Navy on North Academy Boulevard, Abby Barker crisscrossed her arms over her chest, trying to stay warm in the 20 degree Black Friday morning.

Barker and her boyfriend, Brandon Johnson, 19, hit the clothing store at about 6 a.m. Friday in search of deals on sweatshirts and other items.

“I didn’t really plan,” Barker said, “There is nothing specific I want. It’s just all on sale.”

Johnson drove his girlfriend to Old Navy and other stores, hoping to whittle down his Christmas shopping list.

“Getting up and going out shopping is a little crazy,” he said, “but I figured I had Christmas shopping to do, so I might as well take advantage of the sales.”

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Sleeping in her car for about 90 minutes in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Falcon didn’t help Barbi Ferguson much. It was nearly 8 a.m. on Black Friday and she was talking to herself, trying to remember her husband’s shirt size, after a long night of shopping.

“My mind went blank,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been to 10 stores at least.”

Ferguson said her 20-year-old daughter quit shopping and went home about 1 a.m.

“I’m exhausted, but it’s definitely been fun,” Ferguson said. “I’m not a shopper. This is my one big day of shopping every year.”

Ferguson said her attitude about Black Friday changed dramatically 20 years ago, when she was pregnant.

“A lady jammed her Target card in my pregnant stomach and I was going to snap back at her but decided to smile instead,” she said. “Now my favorite part is telling grumpy people ‘Merry Christmas.’ For every person you smile at, you make 10 more smile because they’ll pass it on.”

Right on cue, Ferguson smiled, and left in search of another bargain.

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It was a day of protest, not of shopping, for 10 protesters who braved the chill Friday morning to picket the Wal-Mart store on East Platte Avenue.

“It’s an effort to show solidarity with Wal-Mart workers,” said Karen Emanuelson, a Safeway employee and member of United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7.

Emanuelson was co-organizer of the protest with Jim Janty, a tailor at the Air Force Academy and a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union.

“Full-time employees at Wal-Mart don’t make a living wage,” Emanuelson said. “The ironic thing is the United States is the only country where Wal-Mart isn’t unionized, and that includes China.”

She carried a sign that read: “Give us full-time hours and affordable healthcare.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s larget retailer, has long opposed a union for its employees.

More than 100 protesters marched outside a Wal-Mart in Lakewood, according to the Associated Press.

Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
Facebook Gazette Bob Stephens

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