Shoppers lay siege to stores

Photo by John Bryant
Katherine Hall picks a pickling crock at Barnes-Boring Hardware, the town's oldest store.

  By Thomas Wilson
star staff
  Shopping madness hit the nation this Thanksgiving weekend as some stores opened as early as 5 a.m. on Friday to accommodate early bird shoppers who snapped up DVD players, diamond rings, and drills. Shoppers stood in line at Wal-Mart in Elizabethton where the doors opened at 6 a.m. Friday.
  "The morning was the busiest," said Holly Hill, customer service manager at the Elizabethton Wal-Mart store.
  Hill worked the evening shift Friday night when store workers finally enjoyed a lull in consumer traffic. Most large retailer stores and area malls hosted early morning sales specials that drew thousands of shoppers. Hill said a 20-inch color television with built-in DVD player and a portable DVD player were two on-sale items that proved popular to shoppers.
  "A lot of people bought the DVD players," said Hill. "We had a ton of other people putting the (television) in layaway."
  The National Retail Federation (NRF) projected total holiday retail sales to increase 4.5 percent over last holiday, bringing holiday spending to $219.9 billion. Holiday sales growth of 5.1 percent in 2003 was easy to achieve since sales the year before rose a meager 1.2 percent. The nation's leading retail trade group, the NRF estimated that up to 130 million consumers would go shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend.
  "Strong sales on Black Friday can indicate that consumers are excited about the holidays and ready to spend," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "Consumers seem more settled this year and high gas prices don't seem to be keeping shoppers out of the stores."
  "Black Friday" refers to the day after Thanksgiving Day, as it once marked the day struggling retailers went from being in the red to being in the black, or profitable.
  The first installment of the Consumer Intentions and Actions survey revealed that consumers plan to spend over $700 this year on holiday gifts, decorations, cards, candy and food -- up from $672 last holiday.
  The holiday season beginning accounts for nearly one-quarter, roughly 23 percent, of annual retail sales, according to the NRF.
  Hill said traditional selections of toys and themed items were big sellers and had sold well on Friday. She said the weekends before Christmas typically drew the largest number of shoppers through the remainder of the holiday season. Hill said the West Coast Chopper bicycle for kids also ranked as a big-ticket item.
  "Everybody wanted them," she said.
  While the building is under roof, the highly anticipated Wal-Mart Supercenter in Elizabethton will not be open in time for the Christmas shopping season. Hill said the superstore was not expected to open until late January. The disposal of debris containing asbestos materials and lead delayed the store's opening.
  Shoppers crowded Mahoney's sporting goods store in Johnson City on Saturday afternoon where the store's footwear buyer, Greg Luster, said business had been brisk since Friday morning.
  Work boots, socks, Carhart clothing, and weatherproof Gortex apparel ranked among the most popular buys in preparation for the hunting and winter sports seasons according to Mahoney's employees. With deer season right around the corner, Luster said the holiday season always included a jump in outdoor sports buying.
  "Nothing really ever slows it down," he said. "Those guys will always hunt and always hike."
  The holiday season typically means more seasonal jobs that contribute to lowering the national unemployment rate, albeit only for a short time.
  The Tennessee Department of Labor reported the unemployment rate for Carter County fell .1 percent in October to 5.6 percent. The county ranked second behind Unicoi County at 5.7 percent in the highest unemployment rates for the Tri-Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which had an overall unemployment rate of 4.5 percent last month, according to the department.