Black Friday, Small Business Saturday sales lure shoppers to early holiday shopping start -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated on Nov. 26.

Stores around the county saw large crowds of eager shoppers on Black Friday and the weekend that followed, making it a cheery start to the holiday buying season for some retailers.

“The Montgomery Mall looked like it was doing really well,” said Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, who did some shopping of his own Friday.

Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg also saw increased traffic, said Susan Davis, the mall’s marketing director.

“This year, we’ve definitely been busier than the last two years,” Davis said of the Lakeforest Mall traffic on Black Friday.

Small merchants in Maryland reported mixed results from the third annual Small Business Saturday holiday shopping promotion Nov. 24. Small Business Saturday is sponsored by the Small Business Administration and American Express to encourage consumers to shop at small businesses after the initial Black Friday rush. American Express tried to boost interest this year by offering 100,000 card customers a $25 credit for “shopping small.”

The American Express website reported that the event was a “great day for small businesses,” but it provided no data.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses released a survey last week that showed that 67 percent of people familiar with the promotion planned to patronize small retailers Saturday. It also showed that 70 percent planned to spend more or the same amount as last year and would spend $100 on average.

“I think it’s a good idea, but it’s not quite there yet,” said Gillian Market, manager of Ginger, a women’s clothing and gift store in Bethesda. “People definitely came in, but it just wasn’t a busy day.”

Harry Thompson, a stylist at fashion and jewelry store Metamorphosis Boutique in Silver Spring, had the same “OK” interpretation of the day’s sales.

“We did have a few clients who came in specifically for Small Business Saturday,” he said.

Early Birds

Lakeforest Mall opened at 6 a.m. on the morning of Black Friday. Last year, the mall opened at 4 a.m. Davis said the later opening helped retailers’ crowd control efforts.

Stores at Montgomery Mall opened at midnight on Black Friday to crowds of teenagers, young adults and parents. A disc jockey played songs by Britney Spears and One Direction as shoppers entered raffles and waited in the mall’s common areas for stores to open. Long lines formed outside clothing retailers Victoria’s Secret, PacSun, Express and Urban Outfitters just before midnight.

Sitting in front of Forever 21, Monie Nworisa of Damascus and Blake Petersen of North Potomac said it was their first time at a midnight opening. The two friends said they had arrived at the mall around 11:45 p.m. Petersen said the midnight opening made it easier for her to shop for her Christmas gifts.

“If I had to go to bed and wake up [early], this would not happen,” she said.

In front of PacSun, Indra and Taru Agarwal, both of Germantown, waited as their son stood outside the store. The couple said they had come to the mall mainly to let their son and daughter shop.

“I would like to be in bed, honestly,” Indra said.

Montgomery Mall spokeswoman Joanna Caputi said this was the second year the mall opened at midnight. Caputi said the mall generally sees a younger demographic in the late night hours, compared to Black Friday morning shoppers. The mall also had a DJ play during the night last year.

“It really helped to keep the shoppers energized,” she said.

Though the mall does not release traffic numbers, Caputi said the number of shoppers they see on Black Friday is about triple the usual crowd on a busy weekend day.

A national event

A week before Thanksgiving, the National Retail Federation estimated that up to 147 million people planned to shop in stores and online on Black Friday and the following weekend.

Elsewhere around the country, Walmart workers used the annual shopping day to draw attention to their low wages. But at Montgomery County’s Walmart in Germantown on Thursday night, hundreds of customers had lined up on both sides of the store’s front entrance. Just before 10 p.m., a few shoppers were streaming out of the store as more went in. County police officers and volunteers from the Laytonsville fire department were at the scene to keep tabs on the bustling crowd.

A local organizer said Friday morning that employees of the Germantown Walmart were not on strike, but volunteers would hand out fliers protesting low wages at the company.

“We’re not going to do anything too crazy,” said Carlos Mellott, a Gaithersburg resident and representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Mellott said he expected between 10 and 20 volunteers, mostly his own acquaintances, to come out and help disseminate information about the nationwide strikes and employee conditions.

“[Walmart] associates are just trying to stand up for their rights,” he said.

Family traditions

By 8 a.m. Friday morning at the Westfield Wheaton shopping mall, the atmosphere was relatively relaxed. Most of the stores had been open since midnight.

Richard and Blanca Gunion, both of Washington, D.C., said they started shopping around 3 a.m., hitting other stores — including Best Buy, Macy’s and Target — before reaching the Wheaton mall’s J.C. Penney, where they did most of their shopping.

“When we were here at 6 a.m., a million people were here,” Richard Gunion said.

Travis Darden, store leader at J.C. Penney, said about 200 people were inside the store at the 6 a.m. opening.

Darden said popular items included the store’s small appliances and women’s boots, and that the store already had sold out of some items.

“We’ve got a steady crowd continuously coming in,” he said.

Diana Williams of Silver Spring said she arrived at the mall at 6 a.m. and that it was “not very crowded.”

Accompanied by family members, Williams was shopping for her nieces and nephews with a specific list in mind, which included toys, comforters and towels.

“It’s like a ritual,” she said. “After Thanksgiving dinner, we go through the paper and through the ads and pick out the things that we want to get for sure, and that’s how we decide what stores we go to.”

Williams said she enjoys Black Friday and was looking to get as much of her Christmas shopping done as possible.

“For me, it’s the thrill. The thrill of the hunt,” she said.

Downtown

Some stores outside of malls also held sales to attract Black Friday shoppers. Business was steady Friday morning at Luna, a clothing store on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda that is featuring sales through the weekend, manager Laura Petito said.

“We always expect to be busy on sale days,” she said. “It’s a really fun time, too, because everybody’s out, everybody is bouncing around.”

Friends and family took advantage of the warm fall day by strolling Bethesda Avenue, which is decked out for the holidays with a Christmas tree, evergreen accents and signs announcing weekend sales.

Jacqueline Ingalls of Albany, N.Y., and her two daughters enjoyed a mother-daughter day in downtown Bethesda, stopping to buy cupcakes and get their hair done at Bethesda’s new specialty salon, Drybar. Though Ingalls’ daughters live in Washington, they come to Bethesda for good shopping and easy parking.

For the clothing store Sassanova, Black Friday is one of their best days of the year, store owner Sassy Jacobs said.

“Black Friday has really ramped up around here the last couple of years,” Jacobs said. “Black Friday used to be more for Best Buy, Target. The people who shop around here are not going to get up at 6 a.m. and go to Best Buy.”

By mid-day, Bethesda Avenue was crowded with shoppers, cyclists and people sitting on benches enjoying food and drinks.

“This is a typical weekend day, it feels like a weekend,” said Eliot Feldman, who can be found, rain or shine, sitting with his bulldog Max on a park bench in front of Bethesda Bagels on Bethesda Avenue.

In Gaithersburg, Dan and Kristy Burrows brought their daughter Maggie, 5, to Toys ‘R’ Us for a few gifts and some board games to donate to Toys for Tots. Although they didn’t start shopping until around 8 a.m., they drove by Best Buy in Germantown on Thanksgiving evening and saw people camping outside in tents.

“For the most part, we [do] Christmas shopping for family through the whole year, so it’s more spread out financially,” Kristy said. “... We’ll go around a little in the morning and go have lunch, chop down a tree and call it a day.”