Gearing up for the shopping extravaganza

Earlier openings and another retail movement are afoot for this year's holiday weekend.

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Braving the early morning cold and darkness, Black Friday shoppers huddle by the front doors of Shopko shortly before 5 am while visions of sales did dance in their heads. Doors opened at 5 am and the holiday shopping season officially began with the hope that merchants would be offering big enough sales to entice cautious consumers to put their currency back into the flow of the economy. November 28, 2008

WALLA WALLA -- Randy and Danielle Strickland have three must-haves in their Black Friday strategy: coffee, warm clothing and a plan.

"It always helps to know what you're going to be going after," Randy Strickland said.

The Walla Walla resident and his wife, parents to three little ones, plan to comb through the ads on Thanksgiving day and make a list of which stores they'll go to and what they plan to buy at each place. The annual shopping excursion the day after Thanksgiving will not only kick off their holiday shopping, it will give them a crack at deeply discounted prices for some needed everyday items.

Strickland doesn't consider himself your-run-of-the-mill Black Friday diehard who will camp out in front of a store overnight for a good deal. But he is a regular on what experts predict this year will be a growing Black Friday scene with earlier store openings and more markdowns than ever.

The shopping tradition -- named to represent retailers' annual transition to profitability -- is coupled this year with another retail movement, Small Business Saturday. So even those who buck the Black Friday madness are likely to be out shopping in support of small local businesses.

Horte Hernandez counts herself among the latter. Her strategy for the weekend is simple. "Shop local. Support locally-owned businesses."

Apart from the early Friday openings of the big-box retailers across the Walla Walla area, smaller businesses are also embarking on their own plans to woo shoppers.

A pair of downtown Walla Walla stores plan to commemorate Black Friday's alternative "Plaid Friday." The moniker is intended to celebrate the creativity of independent retailers.

Those who wear plaid on Friday at Lotus Clothing & Jewelry Design, 19 S. Spokane St., will receive a discount on any purchase. Door Number Two, 32 S. Colville St., will celebrate with extended hours -- 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and drawings for future savings. On Poplar Street, LeFore's Spa will open 8:30 a.m.-11 a.m. only. Those who purchase a gift card between $50 and $500 will receive a free gift certificate matching that amount. Gourmet food truck Andrae's Kitchen, which will be set up at Ninth Avenue and Poplar Street both Friday and Saturday, will sling its new Burger of the Month gift cards. Chef Andrae Bopp said the cards are being rolled out specifically for the holiday gift-giving season but will be available all year. Two choices allow purchasers to pre-purchase one burger a month for either six or 12 months at a discounted price.

As for those aforementioned chains, they'll have plenty to offer and more crowds, too.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs, more people will hit up the midnight and pre-dawn sales Friday than they have over the last two years. About 34 percent of consumers surveyed said they plan to shop that day. That's up from 31 percent last year and 26 percent in 2009.

"In addition to buying gifts, consumers overwhelmingly indicated that they would be looking for bargains on Black Friday for themselves as well," said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the shopping centers council.

The 9 percent nationwide unemployment rate and slow U.S. economic expansion are likely fueling the increased activity, reported financial news service Bloomberg this week.

Retailers are responding with more deals and more opportunities to cash in on them. Toys 'R' Us, for instance, is opening its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Gap Inc. will distribute 3-D goggles at its Old Navy chain, enabling shoppers to find "secret" discounts on certain merchandise, Bloomberg reported.

Neither chain is located in Walla Walla. But the examples demonstrate the measures retailers are taking to compete for consumer dollars.

And that works just fine for Black Friday aficionados like Strickland, who is bracing for his first local day-after-Thanksgiving shopping after returning to his roots this year from the Boise area.

"They're wanting to get you in there by flashing deals," he said. "The goal is to find what you've been wanting anyway and get a deal."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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CHAIN OPENINGS

Area retail chains opening early Black Friday:

  • Macy's, 54 E. Main St.: midnight

  • Shopko, 1651 W. Rose St.: midnight

  • Walmart, 1700 S.E. Meadowbrook Blvd.: unveiling some specials at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving and midnight

  • Kmart, 2200 E. Isaacs Ave.: 5 a.m.

  • Home Depot, 1100 N.E. C St.: 5 a.m.

  • Big 5 Sporting Goods, 1711 Twin Creek Lane: 5 a.m.

  • Sears, 1631 W. Rose St.: 4 a.m.

  • Jo-Ann's, 481 N. Wilbur Ave.: 6 a.m.

  • Hastings, 617 S. Ninth Ave., 8 a.m.; open until midnight Thanksgiving.

  • Petco, 1725 Twin Creek Lane, 6 a.m.

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