November 25, 1995 in Nation/World

Spending Frenzy Throngs Of Shoppers Hit Area Stores In Traditional Post-Thanksgiving Spree

Eric Torbenson St Staff writer

With a piercing shriek from more than a hundred sleepy-eyed tots, the Christmas holiday shopping season awoke abruptly Friday morning at Silver Lake Mall.

The object of the kids’ inflections, a dozing Santa Claus, finally stirred with a second shriek from the youngsters. From his fancy seat in the mall’s center court, he made haste to Granny’s Buffet to improve his waistline.

The wee ones followed, part of the mall’s “Wake up Santa” promotion to usher in a new season of spending.

The idea was to bring kids to the mall (with their shopping parents) and help Granny - of Granny’s Buffet - wake up Santa for the holiday season. Kids who helped got a free breakfast at the buffet.

For Rathdrum’s Jennifer Reid, it meant rousing her two daughters for the early morning shopping marathon she usually does alone.

“At least I’ve got most of my Christmas shopping done already,” Reid said to the envy of parents shepherding their antsy offspring into the breakfast line. “I got what they wanted: a desk set and a tricycle.”

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.

Forecasts by economists and retail analysts have ranged from cautiously optimistic to pessimistic.

The throngs in Kootenai County parking lots Friday testified in behalf of the optimistic forecasters.

For counties and cities, Christmas shopping provides the make-or-break sales tax dollars needed to balance budgets. In North Idaho, breakneck growth in taxable sales has slowed in recent years, pointing toward this season as an indicator to where things might be headed.

But above all else, the day after Thanksgiving is an event - the Super Bowl for shoppers.

Just past 6:30 a.m. in the puddled parking lot of the ShopKo store off Ironwood, shoppers lingered around the entrance like lions stalking sale-priced prey.

The veteran spenders slipped into the best parking spots at 6:30 a.m. and kept hawk-eyes on store employees hovering around the front doors. Colleen and Jerry Smith of Post Falls accompanied Liz Boone in enjoying a last cigarette before diving into the deals.

“He loves to shop this early,” Boone said of Jerry Smith, both of them truck drivers who made sure they’d be off their routes to attack the aisles of bargains. “We’ve done this so many years - maybe 13 or 14. We wouldn’t miss it.”

For Boone, a Holiday Barbie was on the must-buy list for her daughter.

“I’ll probably spend a little more this year on gifts,” she said. “When the kids get older, they seem to want more expensive things.”

The optimistic consumers seemed to be missing Marla Anderson and her Geppedo kiosk at Silver Lake Mall. The shop usually sells about 100 of its porcelain dolls each day even before the season starts, she said.

“It’s been kind of slow this year so far,” Anderson said. “But I think it’ll pick up. It always does.”

The lethargic sales pace suggests the season will be full of promotions and heavy sales to move merchandise, said Larry Gresham, a marketing professor with the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M; University.

“Nobody is expecting a huge jump in sales,” Gresham said. “It’s going to be a very promotional Christmas. It is going to be a good season for consumers.”

The big promotion emphasis separates this season from last, said Deb Askew-Bahr, store manager at the Silver Lake Mall Lamonts, which used doughnuts, coffee and lots of red sales tags to lure customers.

“It’s really looking good here so far today,” Askew-Bahr said. “Our sales are bringing them in. The doughnuts don’t hurt either.”

Shopper turnout seemed stronger than last year, when freezing rain put a chill on the shopping melee.

In the Sandpoint area, the scene was somewhat quieter. At around 9 a.m., The Bonner Mall echoed with the sounds of Christmas music and not much else. Downtown Sandpoint merchants also deemed the early shopper turnout as mediocre.

Sales and traffic seemed robust in most areas of Spokane, including the NorthTown Mall. Even downtown Spokane bustled and brimmed with perky shoppers.

At the rainy Coeur d’Alene ShopKo parking lot, the next generation of early shoppers continued to hone their skills. Cathy and Aaron Hannawalt from Rathdrum said they were getting used to the groggy-eyed lifestyle of day-after Thanksgiving shoppers.

“You find a lot of good deals,” Cathy Hannawalt said. “This is just our second year. We’ll keep doing it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Holiday sales

MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Eric Torbenson Staff writer Staff writers Alison Boggs and Kevin Keating contributed to this report.

Changed in the Spokane edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Eric Torbenson Staff writer Staff writers Alison Boggs and Kevin Keating contributed to this report.

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