By Greg Duggan
Shannon Brown drove two hours from St. Johnsbury to Williston on Friday to battle crowds and packed parking lots and take advantage of sales offered by retailers at Maple Tree Place and Taft Corners.
“I had to go to three stores to find what I wanted,” Brown said, before she finally grabbed one of the last two Dance Dance Revolution video games at Toys “R” Us.
Brown and the masses came out for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally opens the holiday shopping season with huge sales.
“Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us were crazy. You had to elbow people just to get anywhere,” Brown said, adding that she saw three car accidents in Maple Tree Place.
Many shoppers declined interviews with the Observer as they hustled off to the next sale or a short lunch break. And as much as shoppers were looking forward to deals, retailers were also waiting for the day with anticipation.
Tasha Wallis, executive director of the Vermont Retail Association, said, “Because of uncertainty around the economy,” a lot of attention was focused on the retail sales of Black Friday and the entire weekend.
Though Wallis said national sales figures for the weekend jumped 8 percent over last year –
she said retailers expected a 4 percent increase – she did not have specific figures for Williston or even Vermont.
“Anecdotally, I can tell you it was busy in the county,” Wallis said, adding that electronics made up a large portion of sales in Williston.
A dollar that has fallen in value may have actually benefited Vermont retailers.
“ Chittenden County saw a bump in Canadian shoppers. I think that’s a real opportunity for Vermont merchants throughout the holiday seasons,” Wallis said. “It’s because the Canadian dollar is so strong. The purchasing power is so much stronger down here.”
At Best Buy, general manager Brian Shedd said he heard of people lining up at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The store opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.
“The day after Thanksgiving, compared to years past, was decent,” Shedd said. “It was certainly comparable.”
Top-selling goods at the store, according to Shedd, included Sony laptops, Garmin GPS systems and Kodak digital cameras.
Toys “R” Us in Williston directed questions to its corporate public relations office in New Jersey. Bob Friedland, the company’s public relations manager, had few details about the scene in Williston and would not reveal sales numbers due to company policy.
Friedland did say every Toys “R” Us in the country opened at 5 a.m., and said, “We were very pleased with Black Friday weekend.”
For all the hype around Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year has yet to come – Wallis said that distinction belongs to the Saturday before Christmas.
“I think there were so many promotions on Black Friday and around the (Thanksgiving) holiday, it really got people out. It’s early to tell how the whole season is going to be,” Wallis said. “People may have come out early because they want to stretch their holiday dollar. We’re hoping they came out early as a sign of a good holiday season.”