Columbia stores, customers anticipate Black Friday rush

Many stores will open at 5 or 6 a.m.
Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:20 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 26, 2009

COLUMBIA — It’s long before sunrise on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Hundreds of eager shoppers stand outside the doors of department stores in hopes of beating out fellow buyers and getting their hands on the hottest deals in town.

When the doors open, chaos ensues. Shoppers break into full sprint, and merchandise flies off the shelves. That’s the scene Jenny Love, a lead brand representative at Justice, a girls' clothing store in Columbia Mall, remembers from her two years of working at Target on the morning of Black Friday.

“When the doors opened, people just run in,” Love said. “The store opened at 6, and by 6:05 there was a woman at my (cash register) with five DVD players in her hands without a cart. They get the stuff on sale because then they have one less person to buy for. They think, ‘I’ll find someone to give this to.’”

Many Columbians choose to steer clear of the craziness, but Carla Espy, a bookkeeper at Boone Tavern, said the early morning deals are worth it. Espy and her daughter sift through the ads every year on Thanksgiving Day and plan which stores they want to hit. She’s started as early as 5 a.m. but is consistently done with her shopping by noon, just in time for lunch and a nap to recover from the morning.

“I think it’s the whole atmosphere of it that makes it fun,” Espy said.  “It’s a bit chaotic but still fun.”

Espy said she’s seen diehard shoppers who will go to any lengths to get their hands on the coveted item of the year.

“There’s so many people that you can’t get through the aisles, especially in the toy section at Walmart,” Espy said. “I’ve seen people on walkie-talkies with other people in the store trying to see what the best price is on something.”

Preparing for Black Friday is no simple task for the stores, either. Love said that specialty stores plan employee schedules, shipments of popular merchandise and other logistics weeks in advance.

Love said most people flock to larger department stores before heading to the specialty shops.

“With specialty stores, the customer doesn’t know what sale they’re going to get until they walk in the store because we don’t release that information,” Love said. She doesn’t think that deters visits to specialty stores, though. She’s recently been noticing that a lot of Justice’s customers are buying with coupons and shopping smart.

“The deals aren’t necessarily better, but the price of clothing is going up,” Love said. “Black Friday is going to be a heavy shopping day despite the recession because they are concerned about getting the right thing at the right price.”

Columbia Mall will open at 6 a.m. As part of this year’s Black Friday promotion, it will give any customer who buys more than $100 worth of merchandise before noon a $10 gift card and a subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine.

In central Columbia, the District expects to see its fair share of shoppers, too. Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Special Business District, said that shops downtown offer items that can’t be found at national department stores and that one-of-a-kind gifts aren’t only for those with deep pockets.

“Unique and special doesn’t have to mean expensive,” Gartner said. “We offer a different experience.”

Gartner said many stores in the District will have extended hours on Friday, based on their customers’ needs.

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Charles Dudley Jr November 26, 2009 | 3:54 a.m.

Many people die on this so called Black Friday:

Don't become one of those statistics.

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