Let the shopping begin!

Published 3:58 pm Saturday, November 28, 2009

It may have been early in the morning, but that didn’t keep hundreds of area shoppers from heading to the stores in Albert Lea Friday during the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving Black Friday frenzy.

The nation’s retailers expanded their hours and offered deep discounts on everything from toys to TVs in hopes of getting consumers, many of whom are worried about high unemployment and tight credit, to open their wallets.

A number of stores, including Walmart, opened on Thanksgiving, hoping to make the most of the extra hours. The Medford Outlets in Owatonna opened at midnight Friday.

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But worries about jobs clearly were on top of shoppers’ minds as they focused on big bargains and practical gifts.

Locally, sales began as early as 4 a.m. at Herberger’s and 5 a.m. at Walmart and ShopKo in Albert Lea.

Hot items at Walmart were anything in the electronics department, including flat-screen televisions, laptops and iPods. There were also $7 reversible bubble jackets and $7 winter boots.

Shopko also offered reduced prices on TVs, mp3 players, camcorders and portable DVD players.

Herberger’s had doorbusters for reversible down comforters for $19.97 and a $10 off coupon for anything over $10, to name a few.

Resident Mary Johnson and her daughters Esther Martinez and Michelle Johnson were just three of the many customers who lined up before 5 a.m. Friday in front of Albert Lea’s Shopko.

The family said the economy has definitely impacted their shopping this holiday season.

Michelle Johnson said she recently got laid off with the closing of Movie Gallery in Albert Lea, and Martinez said her husband got laid off as well.

“The kids are asking for smaller gifts,” Mary Johnson said. “They understand it’s harder.”

But with being able to spend less, they’re getting more small gifts to give to the kids, which will mean more to open, Michelle Johnson said.

After looking at the store’s advertisements, the family had planned out exactly what they wanted ahead of time so that when the doors opened, they had a plan of where to go and what to get first.

Mary and Michelle Johnson stuck together while Martinez went her own way.

The Johnson mother-daughter duo first went to the electronics department, where after a little searching they found a portable DVD player, a VCR/DVD combination player and a Tracfone.

That’s where a lot of the early-morning rush went, as people went to snatch up deals on digital cameras, DVDs and other electronics.

By the time the mother and daughter left the store, they also purchased some earrings on sale for $5.99 from $59.99 and a Snuggie blanket, which sold for $9.99 at the store.

Martinez also walked out with a Snuggie along with some other items.

The family met up near the Shopko entrance after their shopping trip, which took less than an hour.

“This year’s probably the best year ever,” Michelle Johnson said. “We got everything we needed.”

At Walmart, where the parking lot was full and people were parking down the street, lines wound through the store, as people with cartloads waited to purchase their items.

Some showed frustration as they walked out of the store, warning others of the long wait.

Doorbuster sales continued through 11 a.m. at Walmart and Shopko and through 1 p.m. at Herberger’s. Other sales went through the weekend.

Black Friday gets its name because it traditionally was the day when huge crowds would push stores into “the black,” or profitability. But the weekend doesn’t provide a forecast for the rest of the season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual sales and profits for many stores.

Still, retailers closely study buying patterns for the Thanksgiving weekend to gauge shoppers’ mindset — what kinds of items they’re buying, what deals are luring them.

Stores need to perform well for the traditional start because chances are slim they’ll be able to make up for lost sales for the rest of the season.