Black Friday shopping

This issue of About features a cornucopia of beautiful traditions that permeate our culture: family, food and philanthropy. But we would be remiss if we overlooked another very powerful custom that crops up this time of year: holiday shopping.

This issue of About features a cornucopia of beautiful traditions that permeate our culture: family, food and philanthropy. But we would be remiss if we overlooked another very powerful custom that crops up this time of year: holiday shopping.

It seems the holiday season is faster and faster upon us each year, thanks to enterprising retailers (not to mention that overzealous neighbor who’s up on his ladder before Halloween). Some prefer to get their shopping done early in the year—About editor Kelsey Reinhart has been lording my present over me since May—some crave the inevitable high from procrastinating, until there’s a mere day or two to go.

And many in our community flock to the stores on shopping’s biggest day—Black Friday.

AT THE MALL

This year, Belden Village Mall will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and remain open for 26 consecutive hours. Over the past few years, many big box stores have perpetuated a gradual but persistent creep in the shopping window for this landmark binge-shopping day. This is likely brick and mortar’s answer, at least in part, to the shift to Cyber Monday sales. But it also alleviates some of the chaos in the wee hours.

“In the past, people would rush to be the first in the door. Last year, the first year the mall opened at 8 p.m., what we saw was a more comfortable shopping experience. We had lines at the door starting at 5 p.m., but it was less crazy,” said Gina Bannevich, mall marketing director.

That’s not to say that the numbers aren’t staggering. Last year, there were close to 9,000 people through the door during those four Thanksgiving hours—which equates to an entire day’s worth of traffic on a Monday in January—plus another 55,000 on Black Friday alone, Bannevich says.

Top destinations for shoppers are anchor stores Macy’s and Sears, which are the primary driving force behind what holiday hours the mall sets each year, according to Bannevich. Also an annual favorite is Victoria’s Secret, with its renowned doorbuster holiday promotions.

It will come as no surprise that toys are a big draw as well: Go! Calendars, Games and Toys, a kiosk-based seasonal store at Belden Village Mall, was the top-performing store in its district last year. And despite a large retail space on Whipple Avenue NW, Toys R Us has opened an express location inside the mall, providing a second point of entry for shoppers.

It’s no secret that online shopping has impacted retail sales, year-round as well as during this holiday surge, but Bannevich believes that the shortened shopping window (just five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day this year) limits the online sales shift a bit, as do the large portion of shoppers who still wait until Christmas Eve to wrap things up (pun intended). She believes that coming years will continue the trend of earlier opening hours.

Another reason to head out for holiday shopping is, of course, the big man in red and all of the seasonal trimmings that flock him. The mall has a new 720-square-foot holiday village planned for families starting November 15, and more than 15,000 children are predicted to sit on Santa’s lap when he visits Belden Village.

SHOPAHOLICS

Bannevich now works behind the scenes on shopping’s biggest day, but that wasn’t always the case. She and her family used to be Black Friday shopaholics, matching shirts and all.

“We were that family, up at 4 a.m. When I was younger, my parents used to leave Thanksgiving evening and drive to Erie, Pennsylvania, for the weekend, getting as much Christmas shopping done as possible.”

But it’s not all about the bargains; it’s about the camaraderie and the experience.

“We were that family, up at 4 a.m. When I was younger, my parents used to leave Thanksgiving evening and drive to Erie, Pennsylvania, for the weekend, getting as much Christmas shopping done as possible.” —Gina Bannevich

“I love the rush of it. I like my job because of that same rush, being in the crowd. I remember my husband once getting a $250 coat for me for $25. But it’s not really the deals that stand out. It’s the memories I have with my family.”

With that “rush” comes the inevitable security issues.

In recent years, stories of shoppers trampled—and worse—by unruly mobs have made headlines around the country. Bannevich recounts her mother’s tale of an actual brawl between shoppers over a Cabbage Patch doll—and that was 20 years ago.

At the mall, she says that they ramp up security for the holiday season, working closely with the Jackson Township Police Department. Thanks to this dedication, the mall has escaped incidents of injury among its guests during peak times such as Black Friday.

FAMILY OUTING

For the last 20 years, Karen Clapper of East Canton has made it a tradition to achieve Christmas list fulfillment in one fell swoop—on Black Friday.

She and her family gather on turkey day for food and fellowship as most families do, but they also use the time before the tryptophan sets in to review the ads for their big shopping outing. And now that the stores are opening Thanksgiving evening, she and son EJ and daughter-in-law Tracy set out after dinner to hit the stores in search of the items on their respective lists.

“Everyone has a destination inside the store when we arrive. You go directly to the item and then head straight for the cash register. Then we head to the next store and the next,” Clapper says of their plan.

Her go-to store is Kohl’s, the one they always hit first, because of its bargains on a selection including clothing, housewares and toys. It’s also the easiest to get in and out of, according to Clapper. Other annual favorites include Gander Mountain, Sam’s Club and Walmart. All in all, the trip involves seven or eight stops.

And it turns out that success really is in the planning.

“One year at Kohl’s, there were 100 people in line ahead of us. We got the items we wanted and were checking out as other shoppers were still streaming through the doors.”

The secret is going in as a team. Clapper has been doing this for 20 years, but for the last five has been joined by her kids, which makes it possible to cover more ground. They even plot out the location of each gift inside the store in advance.

“I love watching people run and fight for stupid little knickknacks that mean nothing. They get distracted, slowed down by looking at things they don’t need.” —Karen Clapper

Her best bargain was the year she bought vacuum cleaners for the whole family that retail for $600. With the in-store promotions, boosted by her preferred customer coupons, she walked away with several for just $250 a piece.

Admittedly, her favorite part of the experience isn’t the bargains; it’s the people watching.

“I love watching people run and fight for stupid little knickknacks that mean nothing. They get distracted, slowed down by looking at things they don’t need.”

Clapper, team in place and plan in hand, has never spent longer than 30 minutes checking out when others have found themselves in lines snaking around the store for hours. And she gets the Christmas shopping done for all 30 friends and family during Black Friday.

In other words, survival of the Black Friday fittest.

The burning desire to get a good deal is pervasive; it’s as American as apple pie, even for those who don’t financially need to bargain hunt, and those sale signs can be like a siren’s call.

Go forth and gift this holiday season in the spirit of delighting loved ones, and use our tips on to help you navigate the currents. And pick up our December issue for a local gift guide sure to help you check all of the good girls and boys off your list.