November 26, 2005 in Business

Save money, lose temper

By The Spokesman-Review
Holly Pickett photo

Phil Sarquilla, with cart in hand, and other shoppers jostle for position at the Target store in Spokane Valley as doors opened at 6 a.m. Friday.
(Full-size photo)

Rachel Skirvin was stunned Friday morning as she maneuvered an orange cart down the toy aisle at Target.

“It’s a bit overwhelming how pushy some people can be shopping for Christmas,” she said.

Ah, the naiveté of a first-time, Friday-morning-after-Thanksgiving shopper expecting Christmas cheer.

She tagged along with friend Leah Szafransky in search of discount toys for her daughter and thought the adventure in Spokane Valley might be fun.

But this year, perhaps more than in others, Thanksgiving weekend shoppers turned ornery.

Some stores didn’t carry enough of the advertised door-buster deals. Meant to reward the earliest arrivals, the short supplies frustrated people who argued that stores should carry more deeply discounted merchandise or at the very least include the number of items available in the advertisements.

The most volatile situations, however, occurred outside big retail stores.

“Please, have some manners,” yelled a shopper at line-cutters outside Target. “How rude.”

No laws were broken as a Washington State Patrol trooper stood idly near the front of the line and watched as social mores were cast with the cigarette butts and gum wrappers in the parking lot.

The line-cutters received a few well-placed elbows, a year’s worth of dirty looks and public scolding from the people who arrived early and politely waited in lines that were hundreds deep.

They weren’t deterred, and the grumbling carried over into the store aisles.

As Phil Sarquilla of Spokane Valley put it: “This is the season of brotherly shove.”

It was the same at Wal-Mart’s 5 a.m. opening.

Yet by midmorning, bargain shoppers found specials from $19.99 MP3 players at Sears to $79.99 portable DVD players at Shopko.

Whether it was the coffee, daylight or shopping satisfaction, crowds were cheered and spent freely, according to clerks at several stores in NorthTown Mall.

The region’s economy has improved and retailers expect brisk sales.

To lure shoppers, merchants are offering gift cards to encourage repeat shoppers, including a $1 million national program from Macy’s, a major Spokane merchant that had operated as The Bon until last year.

Even grocery giant Albertsons has gotten into the digital act with a $70 flat screen television.

Instead of meat, milk and fruit specials, the Boise-based food giant’s four-page newspaper insert was heavy on electronics and toys as it tries to get a few of the 130 million shoppers this weekend who will spend an estimated $23 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

During the next month, shoppers will spend $439.5 billion on holiday gifts.

The trade association said companies blitzed the public early and often with advertising for its so-called “Black Friday,” a reference to the day when stores turn profitable.

Linda Dowd, a single mom, started the Shopko line at 3:20 a.m., determined to save a few bucks. When the doors opened she broke into a big smile and rushed inside to load up on deals.

In Kootenai County, the mood was no less frenzied.

Pete Vas Dias of Post Falls waited outside Wal-Mart starting at 10:45 p.m. Thursday – first in his car, then at the automatic doors.

“Good conversation, camaraderie, the local community feeling we’re all looking for,” Vas Dias said half-jokingly, listing the reasons he stood in the frigid night for hours.

Jamie Ruff and friend Pat Sweet had a list and were optimistic of landing at least a few deals outside Shopko.

The new $399 Xbox 360 on the list was a long shot, they acknowledged.

“You have to think positive,” Ruff said.

Skirvin agreed as she kept filling her cart with discounted items.

“I’m not sure about all this,” she said wearily as a hurried shopper bumped her cart. “It is interesting.”

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