Seventy shivering, bargain-crazy shoppers snaked back from the Tri-State Outfitters door a half-hour before the lights came on Friday, kept warm by this thought: free wool socks.
The first faces through Tri-State’s doors nabbed a pair of fuzzy footwear, just one of dozens of lures cast out by stores to snag that special breed of consumer - the day-after-Thanksgiving die-hard.
“This is fun!” insisted Sandy Leight of Post Falls, husband Ken in tow for a whirlwind hopscotch of Coeur d’Alene merchants. “But we’re headed right back to bed after this one.”
Stores hawked cans of sticky caramel corn, Tweety Bird wristwatches, grab bags of goodies themed after popular movies and handfuls of coupons.
An apologetic manager at Coeur d’Alene’s Target store had to tell a group of shoppers gathered outside at 6 a.m. that the store actually opened at 7.
The chilled shoppers explained that they had seen television ads that touted a 6 a.m opening for Target stores around the country, with Tweety Bird bags of treats for those first in line.
The manager apologized again and retreated inside. Dave and Sandy Rinehart of Coeur d’Alene shrugged and stayed put. “We’re going to get that bag,” Dave Rinehart said.
Later that morning, both Rineharts weren’t sure the bag was worth the wait. “But we did get our down comforter,” Sandy Rinehart said.
Optimism ran high for shoppers and merchants alike as the holiday season kicked off around the Inland Northwest. Retail experts have issued mixed predictions for this year’s shopping season.
Around town under the early morning moonlight, shoppers nursed coffee and waited for the doors to unlock.
Vernon Hazen’s shopping adventure began last year when he set his Christmas tree ablaze behind his house.
“It went up so dang fast that I really tried to talk my family into getting an artificial one,” Hazen said in the parking lot of the Coeur d’Alene Ernst, 10 minutes before its 6 a.m. opening. The hardware and nursery chain has gone bankrupt, but has great deals in its last days.
Hazen, who runs a children’s petting zoo at fairs around the country in the summer, was a rookie at the crack-of-dawn shopathon routine. The veteran shopper of the family is Betty, his wife, who meticulously buys for their nine children and 22 grandkids spread out from Massachusetts to Alaska.
“I do the shipping,” Vernon Hazen said. “It adds up when you’re buying for about 40-plus people.”
By 6:20, Hazen had his artificial tree and some lights for the outside of his home, and headed home.
Parking lots at area stores appeared to fill faster and fuller than last year. Friday was the first day in a week that major roads were dry, and the shortened shopping season may have put shoppers in a mood to buy now rather than just look around.
In Sandpoint, the first fall season for the new Wal-Mart saw a nearly full parking lot through most of the day. A steady flow of cars at the Factory Outlets suggested shopping was off to a good start in Post Falls as well.
“I think it’s going to be real good,” said Gloria Peterson, manager of the Vanity women’s clothing shop at the Silver Lake Mall.
This is her first year managing a retail store after spending many years managing hotels in the area. Her two teenage daughters help her make choices about what clothes work for their age group. “I just hope everybody has a great season.”
Nine-year-old Heather Hoehne of Coeur d’Alene peered through the glass doors of Target and spied the one thing she really, really wanted this year: the Nintendo 64 video game system.
“Yeah!” she shouted as mother Trish Hoehne pointed to the sign inside the store that marked the place where people would need to line up to get the sought-after toy.
Trish’s dilemma was that her boyfriend was lined up at a nearby toy store to get the same system, and she worried he might not get one while she and Heather were staring at a stack of the machines.
Much of her other Christmas shopping already was done - she began snapping up bargains last January. “Now we’re just filling holes.”
She joined about a dozen other shoppers to get the free goodie bags from Target Friday morning.
While many shoppers said they were excited about the new Spokane Valley Mall, Trish Hoehne said she would shop far more often at the new Fred Meyer store being built on Highway 95 in Coeur d’Alene.
“I think that’s the one that’s probably going to hurt local stores a little,” she said.
The opening of the Spokane Valley Mall next year had Jonel Baker of Hayden delighted. Working in the Bonnie Crain Pottery booth in the Silver Lake Mall Friday morning, Baker said the seasonal store likely would be in the new mall instead of in Coeur d’Alene next November. “I know Bonnie is very excited about it.”
Though Baker said she would shop the new mall occasionally, she will remain loyal to Silver Lake Mall, which is convenient and has stores she likes. “I think this will still get lots of people even with the new mall.”
Strange colors on that mall, though, Baker said. “It’s odd.” Large yellow triangles with brown trim are visible from Interstate 90. “I wonder if that’s the color it’s really supposed to be.”
Baker’s booth at the Silver Lake Mall sells handcrafted pottery from Bonnie Crain and contemporary music from her son, composer Brian Crain. The season looks like a good one, Baker said.
Baker is looking to buy a lot of electronic gifts for her two boys, ages 13 and 11.
Despite the fact that the holiday season has gotten a little too commercial for her tastes, “I like to think that people still try to keep the spirit of the season with them.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Eric Torbenson Staff writer Staff writer Kevin Keating contributed to this report.