Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shoppers brave ‘pandemonium’ for deals

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 11/23/2012

Black Thursday was the name assigned to the historic New York Stock Exchange collapse of Oct. 24, 1929.

But on Thanksgiving, area shoppers weren’t thinking about a stock market crash when they crammed the aisles of Walmart Supercenter, 2101 S. Princeton St., Ottawa, for Black Thursday holiday specials. 

Black Thursday was the name assigned to the historic New York Stock Exchange collapse of Oct. 24, 1929.

But on Thanksgiving, area shoppers weren’t thinking about a stock market crash when they crammed the aisles of Walmart Supercenter, 2101 S. Princeton St., Ottawa, for Black Thursday holiday specials. 

Walmart, along with many other national retailers, kicked off its big holiday sales at 8 p.m. Thursday, rather than waiting until Black Friday — the traditional shopping day. 

“It was pandemonium,” Richmond resident Jim Beckwith said of the scene at Walmart Thursday night.

Walmart shoppers reported no open spaces could be found in the football field-sized parking lot that night. 

“We went out to buy a trampoline, and we got it,” Beckwith said Friday morning. 

The Mendell family’s Walmart shopping adventure Thursday evening also proved successful.

“My daughter waited in line four hours to buy a 40-inch TV,” Roger Mendell, Ottawa, said about 8 a.m. Friday as he shopped at DIY Supply store and lumberyard in Ottawa. “She stood in line from about 6 to 10 last night. I went out about 9:45 to pay for it, and then it took another hour waiting in line to check out. I thought Walmart did a pretty good job, though, of keeping everything orderly.”

Mendell, who was picking up a few items at DIY Supply, 2204 S. Princeton Circle, said he didn’t realize before he went into the new supply store and lumberyard, which opened in late October next to Country Mart, that every item was 15 percent off for Black Friday.

“I was just picking up some things for a job I’m working on,” Mendell said. “But if everything is 15 percent off, I might come back later if I see some other things I like.”

Walmart wasn’t the only local retailer taking advantage of the early holiday push Thursday evening.

Sears Hometown Stores, 220 S. Main St., opened its doors to a flood of customers at 8 p.m. Thursday in downtown Ottawa, owner Mark Feldkamp said.

“I didn’t really want to be open on Thanksgiving, but Sears Corporate requested that we be open,” Feldkamp said. “It turned out to be a really big night for us. We were open from 8 p.m. to midnight, and we probably had more people lined up in the store than we’ve ever had.”

A weary Feldkamp, who said he caught an hour-long nap on one of the beds in the store, reopened for business at 4 a.m. Friday.

“I laid down at 1 this morning, and we had people starting to line up an hour later at 2,” Feldkamp said late Friday morning. “We probably had about 20 people lined up in front of the store when we opened at 4.”

Next door, at 226 S. Main St., Roger and Sandy Sample, owners of Front Row Sports, had a front row seat to witness the line in front of their neighbor’s store.

“We decided not to open Thursday. We celebrated Thanksgiving,” Sandy Sample said. “But we did open at 4 a.m. [Friday], and I couldn’t believe the line in front of Sears — people were lined up down the block. People started coming in our store about 5.”  

With a handful of shoppers browsing through the store, Sample said Friday morning she thought the foot traffic was down, compared to last year. The store, which sells sports apparel, shoes and other sporting goods, marked its first anniversary earlier this month.

“It was a little different this year with Walmart and some others opening at 8,” Sample said. “I think that earlier start has cut down some of the [foot traffic] this morning.”

But one of the owners of The Pink Suitcase women’s clothing boutique in downtown Ottawa said Walmart’s early start Thursday evening would not affect her shop.

“We have distinctive women’s clothing that you won’t find anywhere else in Ottawa, and we have good, loyal customers,” Nichols said. “We also have a lot of out-of-town shoppers from Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka.” 

Nichols and her partner, Sarah Gollier, were marking their business venture’s third anniversary on Black Friday. Everything in the store was 20 percent off for Black Friday, with 50 percent off other select items. Nichols said the store also rings up a lot of online sales through its website, www.shoppinksuitcase.com

Ottawa resident and regular Pink Suitcase customer Allison Thompson said she was looking to take advantage of the Black Friday deals at the boutique.

“The sale lured me in,” Thompson said. “This will be my only Black Friday stop of the day. I’m looking at buying some accessories for small gifts.

“I might also shop for myself,” Thompson said, smiling.

Whether shopping for gifts or for themselves, 225 million people spent $11.4 billion on Black Friday 2011, according to consumer reports. Economic analysts were projecting a 3.1 percent growth in Black Friday sales for 2012. Sales receipts for the holiday weekend also were expected to be up with national box retailers getting an early start Thursday night, analysts predicted.

Sears’ Feldkamp said he thought his store’s Black Friday sales would top 2011, based on the foot traffic through the door.

Angela Romstedt said she and her mother, Kathie Romstedt, both of Ottawa, took advantage of the Thursday night sales, with overnight stops including trips to Walmart in Ottawa and Kohls in Lawrence.  

About 7 a.m. Friday, the pair were standing with an arm load of tools, a shop vacuum, a hose and other supplies at the check-out counter at Sears in Ottawa.

“We started at 8 last night,” Angela Romstedt said. “We found some great deals. Now, we’re headed to Sonic for breakfast burritos and then going home to bed.”

Back on Princeton Circle, DIY Supply manager Bob Smitley said he saw a steady stream of customers come through the door when it opened at 7:30 a.m. Friday. The store was closed Thursday.

“Everyone has been pushing hard the last six to 10 weeks to get the store open, and we wanted to give the employees Thanksgiving off to spend with their families,” Smitley said. “We have been selling a lot of fencing product and paint — and jalapeño pickled eggs, believe it or not.

“We have found everyone in Ottawa to be warm and hospitable,” Smitley said. “I think, as more people become accustomed to us being here, we will form a good partnership with Ottawa.”

Greg Hendershot, owner of Prairie Cabin Antiques, also said he was trying to get his business established in downtown Ottawa.

Opening three weeks ago at 230 S. Main St., Prairie Cabin Antiques had not had too many customers come through the door Friday morning, Hendershot said about 8 a.m.

“We opened at 4 a.m., and everything is 10 percent off in the store for Black Friday,” he said as he smiled at the site of a pair of customers walking into the shop, where the sweet smell of cinnamon greeted them. “I think it’s just going to take some time for people to know we are here.”

Traditionally, Black Friday is the busiest U.S. retail sales day of the year.

But at Front Row Sports, the Samples weren’t going to base the success of their holiday season on one day, Roger Sample said as he watched customers look at K-State and KU shirts and sweatshirts.

“I’m not too concerned about Black Friday,” he said. “It’s a long holiday shopping season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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