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Merchants Can Also Feel Thankful Now Shoppers Jam Stores In Annual Holiday Frenzy

Rosy and Bill Ferner rushed to the back of the 200-person line at the Spokane Valley Target Thursday to wait their turn - again.

The Moscow, Idaho, couple wanted the cloth Tweety Bird bags filled with goodies, promised by Target to its first 500 shoppers.

“We’ve already been in once,” said Rosy Ferner, a sheepish look on her face. “We have to get two bags because we have two kids.”

They waited, joining throngs on the annual day-after-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza, the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Retail experts this year delivered mixed predictions about the season’s strength, which can reap up to half of merchants’ annual sales.

Ahead of the Ferners in the Target line were Valley residents Ann Webb and her 11-year-old daughter, Heather. Webb is a veteran “day-after shopper,” but usually doesn’t leave the house before 7 a.m. It was Heather - showing early signs of a true shopaholic - who insisted on rising before dawn.

“She wants the free bag,” Ann Webb said.

Fueled by sugar, caffeine

Down the street from Target, Fred Meyer employees passed out coupon books, free coffee and doughnuts to all who entered the store. Lighted Christmas displays flashed from the ceiling. Harried shoppers dodged one another to reach the merchandise they wanted.

By 7:20 a.m., lines were already three deep at more than a dozen cash registers.

Janet Marstad and her mother, Bernice Postlewait, both Valley residents, didn’t have time to chat. They were sale-hopping and planned to make it to Kay-Bee Toy Store in University City Shopping Center by 11 a.m., when that store’s sale ended.

“You really hurry when you come out early,” Marstad said with a laugh.

New choices and last chances

This year’s Christmas shopping season will see a changing of the guard. Many new merchants have entered the Spokane market, such as Future Shop, an electronics store, and PETsMART, a discount pet store. At the same time, longtime retailers such as Best and Ernst will market their wares for the last time.

Both the catalog showroom chain and the home improvement store declared bankrupcty and will go out of business in January. Both drew steady crowds Thursday with liquidation sales.

About 40 people waited outside the Valley Future Shop Thursday morning, while across the street at Best, Rhonda Williamson loaded bags into her trunk.

Best’s advertised liquidation sale of 30 percent off appealed to Williamson, who planned to return when a rocking horse she wanted was discounted an additional 15 percent.

The Shadle Center Ernst also drew crowds with holiday ads. Carol and Dale Jones, who had never shopped at Ernst, made the trek to the North Side store from Otis Orchards.

“With them going out of business, I wanted to see what they had,” Carol Jones said. Still, she added, “I’m not going to power-shop.”

Mall gets mobbed

The Sears at NorthTown Mall was a replay of the discount stores in the Valley. Lines formed in front of the display of tool sets on sale.

Other sale items, such as propane stoves and chain saws, reminded shoppers of the area’s ice storm and power outages. The center aisle was mobbed with people picking through rolls of Christmas wrapping paper.

“Joy to the World” floated through the frenzied scene, playing on a music box shaped like a tiny carousel, with little moving horses.

“This is the first year I’ve done this,” said Billie McGonigal, a north Spokane resident. “I usually try to stay away from the crowds.”

Ray and Frances Golly’s father-daughter shopping trip began at Sears, where 10-year-old Frances bought her father a Christmas present. The present, a set of screwdriver bits for $9.99, wouldn’t be a surprise, but Ray Golly didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m shopping for my boss, a boss-schmoozing present,” Ray Golly said with a laugh.

Steady streams of people swarmed NorthTown’s halls, lining up to see Santa, stopping for ice cream cones, or relaxing on couches at the children’s play area.

Eric Cardella, 16, and his grandfather sat on a bench across from Cinnabon, digging into two of the goopy sweet rolls. Shopping didn’t appeal to the pair as they waited for Cardella’s mother, grandmother and sister.

Cardella, a Mead High School student, said it’d be “well into December” before he started his Christmas shopping.

Downtown has relaxed pace

Downtown Spokane appeared quiet next to the hustle of the discount stores and NorthTown. People moved through the stores, but the area lacked the frenzied pace of past years. Even the streets were empty.

“The traffic’s not what we thought it would be. They’re not coming downtown,” said Darrin Buster, manager of Rings and Things. “I’ve got six people on and another one coming in at 1. Seven people and we’re just standing around.”

Just before Christmas last year, the west wing of River Park Square was emptied to make way for a proposed $100 redevelopment project.

Though that project is moving forward slowly, shoppers remain dedicated to downtown.

“I grew up in Spokane and shopping downtown at Christmas is a tradition,” said South Hill resident Ann Bell, who shopped with her 11-year-old daughter, Shannon.

“We want downtown to stay the type of downtown I grew up in. We will keep our dollars downtown.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos



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