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A Spirited Start Throngs Of Shoppers Hit Area Stores In Traditional Post-Thanksgiving Spree

When the doors burst open just before 7 a.m. Friday, everyone made a beeline for the socks.

About 100 people were waiting in line at the Fred Meyer on Francis when the annual day after Thanksgiving sale began. Five minutes later, dress socks, sports socks and kids Pocahontas socks were stacked in carts.

After all, 50 percent off is a bargain.

Defying analysts’ predictions of a slow Christmas shopping season - when some stores do up to half their annual business - Spokane-area shoppers turned out in droves.

However, lines of bargain hunters seeking low-ticket items supported forecasters’ predictions that shoppers will be more practical and hold out for good deals.

Sherry Sorensen of Spokane started her day at 6 a.m. at Northwest Fabrics and Crafts. She planned to spend between $300 and $400 on clothes, tools and toys. In each store flier, she’d marked X’s next to the items she’d buy.

“It sounds almost too organized, doesn’t it,” she said. “Penney’s opens at 7, that’s my next stop, then on to NorthTown.”

Although it hasn’t been the biggest shopping day in the United States for at least three years, the day after Thanksgiving still gives retailers an early indication of the season’s strength. But above all else, the day is an event - the Super Bowl for shoppers.

Fred Meyer worker Pam Morley perched on top of a counter, laughing as she snapped Polaroid pictures of shoppers rushing through the door.

“I’d rather work this day than any other day the whole year,” Morley said. “It’s fun and it keeps me from spending my own money.”

Stores across the region went all out to attract customers. The first 300 shoppers at Montgomery Ward - which opened at 6 a.m. - received a free Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer watch. River Park Square merchants in downtown Spokane offered free horse-and-carriage rides. And in Coeur d’Alene, 150 children screamed on cue during Silver Lake Mall’s “Wake Up Santa” promotion.

Stores will continue to offer sales and special incentives throughout the Christmas shopping season to circumvent the drop in sales predicted by analysts, said Larry Gresham, a marketing professor with the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M; University.

“It’s going to be a very promotional Christmas,” Gresham said. “It is going to be a good season for consumers.”

The promotions seemed to be working Friday morning.

Exercise machines that were marked down to $59.99 from $129.99 sold out in 15 minutes at Fred Meyer.

At Sears in NorthTown Mall, wrench and socket sets, on sale for $9.99, were sold out by 9:30 a.m. Salesmen wrote rainchecks as the demand continued.

Despite the predicted drop in national spending, a survey indicates average spending in Spokane will increase from last year. The average Spokane household will spend $775 this Christmas, up from $650 in 1994, according to Robinson Research’s annual survey of consumers’ spending plans.

However, a small number of big spenders could be blowing the curve. Robinson’s survey revealed that half of Spokane’s households will spend less than $465. Four hundred people were surveyed for the poll between Nov. 17-20.

“Nationally, it looks like a somewhat soft Christmas season, but those numbers are indicative of a good Christmas,” said Bill Robinson, president of the Spokane-based market research firm.

That might perk up Spokane city officials. After peaking in 1994 at $4.5 million, city tax revenues from retail sales during November and December dropped last year, to $4.3 million.

“We’re not counting on a good one,” said Ken Stone, city budget director. “I’m hoping it’ll be at least the same as last Christmas.” City coffers get 84 cents out of every $100 spent on taxable items in Spokane.

The crowds in downtown Spokane might also encourage merchants nervous about their fate after a mass exodus of stores from River Park Square’s west wing. The shopping center cleared the wing to make room for a proposed redevelopment.

Shoppers rushed through Nordstrom, spraying themselves with perfume and trying on shoes, gloves and jewelry.

At 11:30 a.m., Robin Mounce of Spokane had been shopping for two hours and was loaded down with three Nordstrom bags. She and her mother planned to shop until 3 p.m.

“I think we’ll get it done today,” said Mounce, as she led her mother off to the Hidden Cottage gift shop to drop hints about her own Christmas list.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Holiday sales

MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Alison Boggs Staff writer Staff writer Eric Torbenson contributed to the report.

Changed from the Idaho edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Alison Boggs Staff writer Staff writer Eric Torbenson contributed to the report.