Shoppers by the thousands shrugged off spending worries in the wee hours Friday and grabbed discounted merchandise ranging from big-screen televisions to socks.
The holiday shopping spree started earlier this year as some retailers – driven by fears of tight-fisted consumers – tried to lure shoppers on Thanksgiving Day.
But the best doorbuster sales started in the predawn rain.
“That was nuts,” said Lori Weaver, loading a car with Christmas bargains from Toys R Us. Shopping with friend Jodi Cushing, the two spent some 4 1/2 hours in lines at the big toy retailer.
The store changed tactics this year, opening at midnight.
The result: A throng of more than 1,000 lined up. Many said they hadn’t bothered going to bed and wound up pulling a shopping all-nighter.
Store manager Darol Basaraba said he had to limit the number of people he could let into the store at any given time because of fire codes.
“We did our best,” he said. “The numbers of people exceeded our expectations by far.”
Workers handed out 100 tickets for people lined up to buy a limited supply of Zhu Zhu Pets.
Dozens of shoppers lined up outside Fred Meyer, many to buy half-price socks.
“That’s why you come here today,” said Rachael Rydholm, who stood near the front of the line with her mother, Diane, and sister Andrea.
A bit farther back, Curt Emerson held his smiling 14-month-old son, Clayton. Emerson had a coupon for a flat-panel television mount shoved into his pocket.
Last year shoppers were shell-shocked by the roiling stock markets and failing economy.
Even with signs of an economic recovery, analysts at Wells Fargo predict holiday retail sales will decline 0.8 percent – the first back-to-back drop since such record-keeping began in 1993.
A national unemployment rate topping 10 percent, wage cuts and job furloughs have cut the buying power of many households.
Wal-Mart reacted to the shopping forecast and last year’s trampling death of an employee in Valley Stream, N.Y., by remaining open 24 hours.
The move seemed to soothe the crowds who combed the store for specials and other full-priced items.
The mammoth Wal-Mart in Spokane Valley was busy as shoppers Kristin Sarvis and her college friend from Oregon, Ashley Pritchard, shopped early specials for the first time.
They scooped up pajamas and movies for their daughters.
Debbie Rausch and her three daughters traveled to Spokane from Calgary, Alberta, to visit and seize deals.
“We don’t have these kinds of prices at home,” Rausch said, also extolling a good exchange rate.
While this weekend carries special significance for retailers, it’s also important for local governments. The Washington Retail Association linked its message of buying locally with sales tax revenues to urge spending at area stores.
The state’s sales tax pushes some shoppers to drive to other states. Vancouver, Wash., residents, for example, often drive across the Columbia River to shop in Portland.
Spokane County loses about 3 percent of taxable retail sales to Idaho, according to the state Department of Revenue.
General Store manager Nick Fjellstrom likes to say that nearly every nickel spent at his store on North Division is plowed right back into the community.
Holiday spending is important to the store, but it doesn’t dominate the year. The store also draws a bead on summer recreation and the fall hunt, Fjellstrom said after customers began trickling in after 7 a.m.
Outside of electronics seller Best Buy in Spokane Valley, Ray and Sean Edwards loaded up a new Samsung television, Blu-ray disc player and other items.
All 140 of the store’s employees were scheduled to work Friday, manager Becky Fanning said.
Once the sales are tallied and comparisons to previous years are made, the retailers will better know what’s in store this season.
“This is our biggest day of the year, easily,” she said. “Let’s hope it’s a good one.”