Shoppers thronged local retail stores Friday morning, snapping up bargains on electronics, toys and jewelry.
Parking lots were crowded and checkout lines were long. But while Inland Northwest consumers turned out in force for Black Friday – the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season – many spent cautiously.
“We don’t go into debt for Christmas. We never have. We don’t believe in it,” said Ellen MacDonald, of Rathdrum, who was shopping at Wal-Mart in Post Falls with her daughter, Angela MacDonald.
That means “big electronic items are out of the picture this year,” she said.
Adults in the family will receive homemade goodies, including handcrafted candles, cookies and candy. “We’re calling them ‘Christmas care packages,’ ” Ellen MacDonald said.
The kids will still have packages to rip open on Christmas morning. But the presents will be affordable, traditional toys, such as Barbie houses, Legos and magic sets, Angela MacDonald said.
Many shoppers said they would give fewer gifts this year. Some vowed a “cash-only” Christmas, with no credit card purchases. Comparison shopping was the norm.
“We’re getting back to getting the best deal for the dollar spent,” said Jerry Walker, of Post Falls, who got up at 4 a.m. to buy a marked-down $129 PlayStation. It was a gift for his son.
Ron Garrett, of Coeur d’Alene, echoed the sentiment. He stood in line at Target to buy “Guitar Hero” for Nintendo’s Wii for half price at $59. Garrett, who is retired, has four children, three grandchildren and a wife to shop for.
“With the economy like it is, you have to try to buy for less,” he said.
Nationally, shoppers seemed to be exercising similar caution.
Preliminary reports from major retailers including Macy’s, KB Toys Inc., Best Buy Co. and Toys “R” Us and mall operators such as Taubman Centers Inc. said the crowds were at least as large as last year’s. But analysts said sales Friday may not match the year-ago levels as Americans, worried about layoffs, dwindling retirement accounts and tightening credit slash their holiday budgets, even for their own children.
Karen McDonald, spokeswoman at Taubman, which operates 24 malls in 13 states, said sales of pots and pans as well as small appliances such as coffee makers did well Friday, indicating that people are staying closer to home and more interested in buying necessities. Children’s and teen apparel also fared well, she said.
Back in the Inland Northwest, Patty Pierce joined the throngs of early-bird shoppers for the first time in three years. She was also hunting sales. By 6 a.m., the Bayview, Idaho, resident had purchased a slow cooker, two vacuum cleaners and a Global Positioning System device. Next on her list: hooded sweat shirts.
“The gifts are more practical, and I’m spending less this year,” said Pierce, who is retired.
Jamie Dixson, of Kellogg, recently lost her job at a bank – she was a casualty of the faltering economy. Shoshone County’s unemployment rate soared to 11 percent last month, so Dixson isn’t optimistic about her chances of finding another job soon.
On Friday, Dixson and a friend bought a paper cutter on sale for $29.99 at Michael’s. The paper cutter was a joint investment; the women plan to make their own Christmas cards this year to save money.
For others, Black Friday’s promotional frenzy was an excuse to shop for themselves.
“We’ve got a whole list of bargains,” said Karen Smith, of Hayden.
By buying a KitchenAid mixer for $130, Smith saved more than $100. Her husband, Mike, planned to take advantage of deep discounts to purchase a laptop computer. The couple were also buying king-size sheets for $20 a set; heated water buckets for the family’s nine sheep; and a set of dishes for a needy family.
But most of the merchandise was for them, the couple said.
“We’re not the ones in the credit crunch,” Karen Smith explained. Her husband’s job is secure. And “now that gas prices have gone down, our budget works,” she said.
Others were anticipating a simple Christmas. At the Spokane Valley Mall, Dawn West relaxed on a bench with her two daughters, Brandi West and Misty Griffith. As shoppers with bulging bags hustled around them, the women sorted coupons and talked about scaling back.
“Our friends are getting cards instead of presents this year,” Griffith said.
“I’m not buying so many stocking stuffers,” Dawn West said. In fact, she teasingly told her daughters, they might find JC Penney’s freebie snow globes in their stockings.
Christmas will also be simple at Shari Gariepy’s house. She and her husband don’t plan to exchange gifts. Money’s been tight since he was laid off from his manufacturing job in August.
But Gariepy seemed content with her two small shopping bags. She’d purchased pajamas and tank tops – gifts for her 14-year-old daughter.
“Christmas isn’t all about presents,” she said. “It’s about family and the Lord. The true meaning of the season gets lost in all the hustle and bustle.”