Meadville Tribune

November 29, 2013

Local shoppers in the 'market' for good deals

Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Black Friday hasn’t lost its luster even as Thanksgiving Day sales attract strong crowds, according to two local retailers and stores across the country.

Last year, sales on Thanksgiving rose 55 percent from the previous year to $810 million, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

This year, it appears both days may post sales increases.

For example, Friday was very, very busy at Meadville’s Market House, Market Master Alice Sjolander reported Friday afternoon. “They were waiting for me when I opened this morning,” she said, noting that after the initial rush, sales stayed brisk with only occasional brief respites.

As for what’s hot, “we’ve had a lot of people asking for local products,” Sjolander said. “We have “Meadville” and “Market House” mugs, made in the USA, and a lot of alpaca socks.”

Heaviest sales have been in maple syrup. “A lot of people who used to live here or are visiting local relatives but who now live in places where they don’t have maple syrup are stocking up to take it home,” Sjolander said.

Both “Meadville” and “Market House” T-shirts and sweatshirts are also selling briskly. “A number of people have told me that, as a family, they’ve decided that what they want to do for the holidays is buy from local vendors as “locally” as possible,” Sjolander said.

Nationwide, The Associated Press reported that store sales numbers won’t be available until today. However, the IBM Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce for 800 retailers, said online sales on Thanksgiving were up 19.7 percent from last year. Online sales on Black Friday rose 9 percent, based on preliminary data.

There are signs that stores fared well, too.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, started its holiday sales events at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart said customers bought at least 2.8 million towels, 2 million TVs, 1.4 million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.

The Peebles department store in Vernon Township also opened its doors Thursday night at 6 p.m., and it and stayed open until 1 a.m. Friday. Five hours later, the doors reopened and stayed open until 10 p.m.

Thursday sales exceeded the store’s goal for the day, and the Friday goal had already been passed by 2 p.m., store manager Jeremy Hunter reported Friday.

While customers were lining up Thursday night, the store, like all the other Peebles stores, provided them with coffee and hot chocolate. At each store, the beverages were passed out by representatives of local charities, who kept whatever donations the waiting customers chose to make. For the Meadville store, Hunter selected Remember Nhu, a nonprofit organization working to keep children from being drawn into sex trafficking in parts of Asia.

Boots, on sale for $19.99, have been especially popular, Hunter said.

“The customers have been real nice,” he added. Everyone has been a delight — there have been no complaints.” And that, he added, is just the way he likes it. “I want every customer to leave happy — with a Peebles bag in their hands,” he said.

Of course, not every retailer saw robust crowds.

One of those, according to the Associated Press, was at the Woodland Hills mall in Tulsa, Okla. The owner of Bags and Bangle complained that he had to stay open from 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 10 p.m. on Friday. Suhail Zaidi, who was required by the mall to keep his booth open, said Thanksgiving was somewhat busy, but business had died down by 3 a.m. On Friday morning, he said he had seen only about 20 customers.

“We ruined the holiday," Zaidi said. "Black Friday is a good shopping day, but opening up on Thanksgiving is ridiculous.”