Local retailers hoping for busy Black Friday11/26/08

Nov. 26, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Cautiously optimistic.

That’s how Williston shop owners are feeling in regards to the unofficial holiday shopping season that kicks off on Friday.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Many parking spots remain open in Maple Tree Place a week before Black Friday — one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Retailers are hoping every parking space is filled with customers looking for deals the day after Thanksgiving.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Local retailers hope the walkways at Maple Tree Place, empty last Friday, will fill with shoppers on Black Friday.

With the economy in a slump and uncertainty hanging in the air, many experts, including Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a Maryland-based retail think tank, say numbers will be down greatly, making for one of the more modest shopping seasons in recent memory. Flickinger is expecting a 3 percent decline in sales this shopping season from last year.

But local retailers are holding out hope for strong sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is generally seen as one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Many of the national big box stores, such as Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us and Dick’s Sporting Goods in Williston, hold massive sales on the day, and some only during the early morning hours. For instance, Williston’s Toys “R” Us and the Christmas Tree Shops plans to open at 5 a.m. on Friday.

Already, stores such as Best Buy and Christmas Tree Shops are having early sales, hoping to attract shoppers early and often.

Tasha Wallis, executive director for the Vermont Retailers Association, said the economy is putting many small business owners in “uncharted waters.”

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen (this weekend),” Wallis said. “There could be decreases or a big bump from shoppers.”

Recently, an e-mail has been circulating the Internet identifying national businesses — including some with branches in Williston — that may go out of business at the end of year. The e-mail warns not to purchase gift cards at the stores. Wallis said she’s seen the e-mail and though she does not know if the rumors are true, she does believe it’s causing undue panic.

“Even if there are some retailers struggling, no one disappears pretty much overnight,” Wallis said.

One store that is slowly disappearing in Williston is Linens ‘N’ Things. The bath and bedroom goods store has been slashing prices well before this weekend since announcing last month that all stores were going out of business. Circuit City, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier in the month and is closing 150 stores nationwide, is also having big sales.

Jim Baab, corporate communications manager for Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City, said the Williston store will continue to operate normally and has no plans to go out of business.

“It’s our intention to bounce back from Chapter 11,” Baab said.

Beyond the big box stores

The smaller, locally owned stores are also feeling the brunt of a weak economy, but many are crossing their fingers that economic forecasts are not as dire as predicted.

At Keeping Good Company in Maple Tree Place, the store is decked out in Christmas decorations. Owner Pam Carter said the design comes from the look of Colonial Williamsburg, a national historic site in Virginia, and hopes the holiday cheer will attract shoppers. She admits the smaller stores will have a harder time this year than the bigger box stores.

“It’s the little guy, the independently-owned stores that suffer most,” Carter said. “But the holidays are going to come regardless.”

This will be Carter’s third Black Friday with the high-end home goods store. It will also be the first time Keeping Good Company will have a sale on the day. From 10 a.m. until noon, the store will have a sale and offer warm beverages and cookies for shoppers. Carter believes shoppers will come to avoid the crowds in other stores and to find gifts for the home.

Over at the Floral Gallery, which sells floral arrangements and Vermont-made gifts in Maple Tree Place, owner Karen Sturtevant is among the cautiously optimistic crowd. She said Black Friday has been a lucrative day for her store in the past, and she’s having a sale on Vermont products in hopes of bringing in customers.

“We rarely run sales,” Sturtevant said.

Kathie Cooke, owner of the Paper Peddler in Maple Tree Place, also shares in the optimism. She’s hoping for a busy Black Friday weekend and even busier December shopping season.

“People still want to buy items and they still want to buy quality items,” Cooke said.

In years past, the Paper Peddler generally didn’t run sales on Black Friday, she said, although this year the store will have a sale on Christmas cards and related items.

“I expect (Black Friday) will be down a little, but shoppers will still be out there looking for those deals,” Cooke said.

Wallis hopes shoppers will be out in force in Williston and all over the state.

“We keep reiterating nobody’s cancelled Christmas,” Wallis said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.