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Shoppers hit the stores for late-night sales on Thursday

Shoppers hit the stores for late-night sales on Thursday

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Alan Ritchie, owner of Ritchie’s Western Wear, had no plans to sell boots and shirts on Thanksgiving Day. The longtime Waco merchant laments that holiday shopping seems to begin earlier each year, blurring the line between a day off with the family and Black Friday doorbuster sales.

Thanksgiving, according to national reports, has become “Gray Thursday,” as more retailers and shoppers abandon tradition for convenience and commerce.

Ritchie and his staff were erecting a tent Thursday evening in their parking lot at 4533 W. Waco Drive, preparing for a special sale to begin Friday morning. But so many people began to stop by and browse, Ritchie said, that he ended up conducting business for a few hours.

Following an official opening at 7 a.m. Friday, Ritchie reported a “steady flow” of customers at mid-morning.

Still, Ritchie found no enthusiasm for the trend, saying, “Big stores dominate the market, and we have to yield to them.”

True to his pre-Thanksgiving plans, Brent Bankston, owner of Bankston’s Sports Cards and Comic Books, kept the lights off in his shop on South Valley Mills Drive until 10:30 a.m. Friday morning. He arrived to find two or three shoppers waiting in their cars for a chance to buy stocking stuffers.

“I know we’re not one, two or three on people’s list to visit on Black Friday, probably more like six, seven or eight,” Bankston said Friday. “We had a couple of harried, wind-blown moms come in who probably had been going since last night, bravely enduring the chaos.”

Those moms, he said, were buying sports cards and memorabilia for children and grandchildren.

“One was getting a Nolan Ryan picture out of layaway,” said Bankston, mentioning Major League Baseball’s all-time strikeout leader and native Texan. “Others were taking advantage of the ‘Black Friday’ incentive program sponsored by Panini, which offers bonus packs of sports cards specifically for sale that day.”

Bankston said Americans “absolutely” are adapting to a new day in retailing that includes cranking out sales on the holiday itself.

“I was around people reading ads and planning visits to the stores on Thursday who in years past would have done the same thing for Black Friday,” he said.

Nationally, headlines raised questions about the impact early sales were having on crowds the day after Thanksgiving.

The Associated Press said the annual buying binge has become a two-day event when retailers hope to ensure themselves a profit for the year, moving out of the red and into the black.

Protesting the change

Some shoppers have vowed not to shop on Thanksgiving, saying it’s a sacred holiday meant to be spent with family and friends. Nationwide, some workers have petitions on change.org to protest Target and Best Buy for their decisions to open early.

The Retail Action Project, a labor-backed group of retail workers, planned to have members visiting customers at stores in Manhattan, N.Y., including Gap and Victoria’s Secret, to educate them about the demands on workers.

In Waco, some shoppers said they appreciated the chance to do some leisurely shopping before Black Friday.

Denise Brown, 62, filled her basket with Christmas decorations during a stop at Big Lots early Thursday afternoon.

That morning, she had reported for work at the Waco-McLennan County animal shelter on Circle Road, where she fed the dogs and cats. She stopped for a quick bite at Whataburger, then proceeded to the deep discounter.

“My husband passed away in August, and I don’t have family in Waco. This is the first time since the 1970s I have not cooked,” she said.

This weekend, she said, she will put out her garlands and bring home a tree to decorate with the items she bought at Big Lots.

Richland Mall in Waco opened its common area at 8 p.m. Thursday, joining anchors Bealls, J.C. Penney and Sears, as well as about 25 smaller shops, in welcoming crowds on the holiday. Manager Kandace Menning said late Thursday the turnout impressed her.

She hinted the early opening likely would become an annual affair, saying, “You don’t go back, you go forward.”

The National Retail Federation expects sales to rise 3.9 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year compared to last year.

Wal-Mart Stores, the largest retailer in the world, reported Friday its shopping season began with a bang — more than 10 million register transactions between 6 and 10 p.m. Thursday and nearly 400 million page views on Walmart.com. Target also said sales were among the highest ever online.

At Jernigan’s Knife Store, 1801 Franklin Ave., Byron Jernigan said he closed Thursday, then opened at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Black Friday and variations thereof don’t mean much to Jernigan, he said, “because I sell the kind of knives the discount stores don’t sell.”

The new Guitar Center store at Valley Mills and Waco drives opened at 6 a.m. Friday “to a line that stretched to the AT&T store,” said sales associate Haley King, who added shoppers were snapping up drum kits, guitars “and a lot of other stuff priced ridiculously cheap.”

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