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Wichita shoppers brave cold, crowds in search of Black Friday deals

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, at 9:32 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, at 7:37 a.m.

Carrie Penka and her mom, Rosie Dechant, didn’t get the $8 crockpots they wanted.

But they don’t sweat the small stuff.

“There are crock-pot hoarders up there,” said Penka as they left JC Penney at Towne West around 6:45 a.m. Friday. “There was a lady with five or six crockpots! Other than that we got absolutely everything on our list – and a little more.”

With stores opening earlier and earlier for holiday shopping, shoppers cut Thanksgiving meals short and headed out for one of the biggest retail days of the year. While some stores, like Walmart, were open all day Thursday and started door busters at 8 p.m., others opened earlier than ever. Sears and Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m. Thursday and Target opened at 9 p.m., with people beginning to line up in the afternoon.

“I don’t like (early openings) for the workers because it’s Thanksgiving,” Penka said.

“But this is better than last year,” Penka said. “Last year we did the whole overnight thing and it was terrible. Going at nine o’clock at night and getting sleep for a while and getting back out has been so much better.”

Towne East and Towne West also opened earlier than before, at midnight, four hours ahead of last year.

At Towne West, crowds were heaviest from midnight to 3 a.m. but started to pick back up at 6 a.m., said Jodi Karlin, director of marketing for the mall.

Another mother-daughter duo, Ginger Knudsen and her daughter Katie, both of Wichita, started their shopping at 8 p.m. at Walmart, followed by Target and then Towne West.

At 6:30 a.m. Friday, they said they still planned to hit Gordman’s and Kohl’s before heading home. They estimated they saved between $400 and $500.

“We do it every year. Our strategy is someone grabs the item, someone else stands in line, and we usually have a driver that drops us off at the door,” Ginger Knudsen said.

“I’ve been doing it since I was little with my mom, so I’m passing the tradition down with her,” Knudsen said. “We enjoy spending time together and making memories.”

National results

Nationally, early indications were that sales and foot traffic were meeting retailers’ expectations, according to a report from MarketWatch.

Macy’s Inc. Chief Executive Terry Lundgren, for instance, stood at the door of the company’s flagship store in New York’s Herald Square when it opened at midnight, and watched.

“The flow never stopped,” Lundgren said of the stream of customers, adding that he expects traffic and sales from Macy’s stores nationwide to top those from last year.

But sustaining the momentum is the key, he said. “We are going to do everything to keep shoppers coming.”

Consumers “were definitely buying and not looking,” Toys R Us CEO Jerry Storch said. He reported people were buying items such as its new Tabeo tablet device and Nintendo’s Wii U at full price.

“They are still very focused on the value,” he said. “While it’s a lower-margin day, we still make money. I expect (the shoppers) to return.”

At Best Buy, Shawn Score, its head of U.S. retail, told MarketWatch that while people were also focused mostly on sales, he also saw shoppers buying accessories and paying premium prices for some tablets and smartphones.

The National Retail Federation has predicted holiday sales will increase 4 percent this year, compared to 2011. The modest growth will depend on whether retailers can maintain sales through the weeks leading up to Christmas, analysts said.

Friday was expected to be the biggest sales and traffic day of the season, after sales on last year’s Black Friday – the retail industry’s term for the Friday after Thanksgiving – rose 6.6 percent to a record $11.4 billion, according to mall tracker ShopperTrak. But the Thursday night start to sales could affect that prediction.

Waiting in line

In Wichita, shoppers waited in line Thursday night and Friday morning, depending on the bargains they were seeking.

The atmosphere in front of Cabela’s was almost party-like through Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday, with the store showing “Harry and the Hendersons” on a screen, a DJ playing music, free food, and people bundled up in outdoor gear to battle the cold. But shoppers were anxious to get inside when doors opened at 5 a.m.

Cabela’s marketing manager Jeanette Clements said that within an hour of opening, an estimated 1,500 people were in line to come in. The first 600 in line received free items, such as binoculars, firearms and camouflaged sweatshirts.

This was the first Black Friday for the Wichita Cabela’s since it opened in March, and more than 150 employees were on staff to handle the crowd.

By 7 a.m. Friday, the only evidence of hundreds of shoppers at the Best Buy on West Kellogg was food wrappers and trash on the sidewalk.

Store supervisor Bruce Davison said this year’s Black Friday sale was smoother than in years past because the store let in groups of 100 at a time instead of everyone at once.

Contributing: MarketWatch

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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