Upper Valley Shoppers Embrace Earlier Black Friday Hours
Nearing her 10th hour on the clock, Jessica Kellerman, of Windsor, calls for assistance during the Black Friday sale at Kohl’s yesterday in West Lebanon. The store was one of many to open its doors to shoppers at midnight, with a steady stream of bargain hunters in line throughout the morning.(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »
Lauren Steinmetz, right, a J.C. Penney Sephora associate of Grantham, looks to Jen McLarty, of Bridgewater, after helping with her “smokey eyes” during a Black Friday sale yesterday in West Lebanon. “The gym was closed,” McLarty said. “So I just said, ‘You know what? I want to get my eyes done. It’s time to go shopping.’" (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
Purchase photo reprints »
Shirley Stever laughs after helping a customer check out. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »
West Lebanon — Stephanie Bernier donned a red Santa cap and had a pink cell phone tucked into one back pocket and a black walkie-talkie attached to the other as she raced through the linen department at JC Penney yesterday, past the luggage and between aisles of pink T-shirts.
She didn’t stop until she reached a merchandise cart, which she then rolled to a cashier at the back of the store who used it to lay folded clothes upon.
“Good job,”quipped a customer waiting in line, marveling at Barnier’s hustle.
Because it was Black Friday, Bernier had to wake up at 3 a.m. in order to be at JC Penney by 4:30 a.m., where she works as an assistant manager. She expected to be at the store until at least 1:30 p.m.
“I’m running on three hours of sleep and about five cups of coffee,” Bernier said, before sprinting again to the front of the store, when she noticed woman in a black shirt waiving her hand for attention.
“Are there any more skillets?” the woman asked as she stood between two empty sale racks. All electric cooking appliances had been marked down on special one-day sales price of $8.
“No, we’re all sold out. They went out in the first few minutes,” Bernier said.
Bernier said she actually enjoys working on Black Friday because the store offers treats to customers by bringing in coffee in the morning and sandwiches for lunch.
“It’s an opportunity to have fun with a customer,” Bernier said. “It’s a fun day. We’re always busy. It keeps you going.”
For many of the stores along the Route 12A shopping strip, Black Friday has turned into a game of seeing who can open earlier, as merchants look to combat not only each other, but inroads against online retailers, which holiday shoppers increasingly favor.
JC Penney didn’t welcome customers until 6 a.m., but across the parking lot in the Upper Valley Plaza, Olympia Sports opened its doors at 4 a.m. On previous Black Fridays, the store typically didn’t open until 5 a.m., but this year it moved up an hour because, well, rivals Famous Footwear and Kohl’s were opening at midnight.
Brad Raymond, the manager at Olympia Sports, said he’d probably open his store at midnight next year. Raymond had been at the store since 3:30 a.m., but said he didn’t mind the red-eye hours.
“If you don’t like working Black Friday you shouldn’t be in retail,” Raymond said. “You can’t get too bored on a day like today.”
The store generates about 15 percent of its annual sales during Black Friday, Raymond said, adding that sales were up this year. As manager, Raymond spent weeks preparing for yesterday’s onslaught of customers.
“You either make it or you don’t on Black Friday,” said Raymond, adding that the last two weekends before Christmas are almost as profitable as the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Next door, Famous Footwear manager Adam Houle said the store opened at midnight to follow suit with Kohl’s, but he said there were quite a few times in the early hours when business was slow. But business picked up again around 8 a.m.
Last year, the store didn’t open until 5 a.m., and since Famous Footwear is part of a national chain, the decision to open at midnight was made at the corporate level, Houle said. He noted he’d personally rather open the store later because the earlier hour caused a lot of stress among employees.
Cindy Hall of White River Junction and her sister-in-law Gail Peabody, from Connecticut, launched their Black Friday shopping as early as 8 p.m. Thursday night at Walmart.
They walked into the store with a shopping strategy: They would find Legos and a foam mattress pad, and then they would leave. The duo snatched up 10 boxes of Legos without a hitch. But to their surprise, Walmart was sold out of mattress pads by 8 p.m.
“It was an exceptional deal,” Peabody said.
“And apparently everyone knew that,” Hall added.
The duo picked their shopping back up at 6 a.m. yesterday and hit Home Depot first for 99-cent poinsettias. They then hit Walmart, Books-A-Million, Best Buy, Staples, JC Penney and Kohl’s. They planned to stop at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Kmart before breaking for lunch.
Kara Lufkin and her family have a tradition of leaving their family home in Stark, N.H., at 5 a.m. and traveling to West Lebanon for their Black Friday shopping. Lufkin and seven other family members traveled in a convoy of three cars and planned to stay at the Fairfield Inn last night and continue their shopping this morning.
The family has tried the stores in Burlington and was forced to shop in Concord last year after Tropical Storm Irene flooded many Upper Valley stores. But Lufkin said they like West Lebanon best because all the stores are clumped together.
She stood in an aisle picking out a small red stocking with a “J” on it when her cell phone began ringing.
“Are you finally at Kohl’s?” Lufkin asked her mom, who was on the other end of the phone. “Oh gosh, you’re still at Kmart.”
She added that every year her family says they’re going to cut back in buying presents, but it’s wishful thinking, she said laughing.
Many local stores had a different strategy. At the Powerhouse Mall, some stores opened at 8 a.m. for the first time this year. The mall doesn’t usually open until 9:30 a.m., but since L.L. Bean opens at 8 a.m. on Black Friday, stores within the mall were given the option to open at the same time.
Birth of the Blues had an ad in the Valley News on Thanksgiving that said, “RELAX! Our sale doesn’t start until 10 a.m.”
“The strategy is not to stress out our employees or our customers,” owner David Heimberg said about why he doesn’t open his store until 10 a.m.
Heimberg said he doesn’t structure his entire store around the holiday season. He said November and December are just as important for sales as any other month of the year. Black Friday isn’t a big money maker for him, and he uses the hours as more of a “customer appreciation day” by marking down all his jeans down to $35 and allowing customers to roll three dice to create their own discount.
Back at Kohl’s, it was also Jackie Atkins’ goal to have a stress-free holiday. At 11 a.m., the checkout line at Kohl’s was 78 people deep, and it snaked around the juniors department, men’s and shoe sections. In the middle of the line was Atkins, who held a spatula in one hand and her Kohl’s credit card and coupons in another.
Atkins had been standing in line for about 10 minutes, and had only made it half-way through. She said she usually avoids Black Friday, but she ventured out yesterday with her daughter-in-law.
She was only picking up a few things, however, because she has a less stressful front-end strategy: She holds out for bargains until the day after Christmas to take advantage of the post-holiday mark-downs, which she then gives at the next Christmas. Before Black Friday, Atkins already had 45 wrapped Christmas presents at her Lebanon home, which she bought almost 12 months earlier.
“I have people say I take the fun out of Christmas,” Atkins said. “No, I take the stress out of Christmas.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.