Local shoppers seek deals on Black Friday

Isha Fond, 17, of Bridgeport, Conn., and her sister, Brittney Ford, 20, of Charleston, leave the Target store in West Ashley this morning after rolling out of bed to find some deals. Brittney Ford said she's never shopped on a Black Friday before, but th

Tom Spain

Brittney Ford, 20, had never shopped on a Black Friday -- she never had the money.

But with the economy the way it is, the Charleston woman said she has been smarter about spending, paid her bills on time and set a little cash aside for the big day.

Her splurges: undergarments and towels.

"I'm going to have to wrap this up myself and act surprised at Christmas," Ford said smiling outside the Target in West Ashley this morning.

Shoppers crowded stores and malls in the wee hours Friday, some after spending the night waiting in line, to grab early morning deals and hard-to-find items.

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 and many Old Navy locations, opened on Thanksgiving, hoping to make the most of the extra hours. Toys R Us opened most of its stores just after midnight Friday.

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

Before 8 a.m. at the Target in West Ashley, shoppers were moving briskly through the line to the cash registers. Linda and Doug Brodie started waiting in line outside of the Summerville Best Buy at 4 p.m. Thursday. The couple says waiting in line for Black Friday deals saves money.

"You save thousands," Linda Brodie said. "With the money we saved we bought ourselves a flat-screen TV."

Local shopper Tonya Thompson said she hit Best Buy and three other stores before 7 a.m.

"I got some pretty good deals," she said. "I can't complain."

Tiffin and Charles Lamoreaux of Mount Pleasant shopped at Bed, Bath and Beyond at Towne Centre this morning. They started at 8 a.m. and were finished about an hour later.

"We came out for this one sale and we're heading home now," Tiffin said.

After suffering the worst sales decline in several decades last holiday season, the good news is that the retail industry is heading into the Christmas selling period armed with lean inventories and more practical goods on their shelves that reflect shoppers' new psyche.

Still, with unemployment at 10.2 percent, many analysts expect that total holiday sales will be at best about even from a year ago.

Optimism rose in early fall as shoppers spent a little more, but stores say they've seen a sales slowdown since Halloween, putting merchants more on edge.

The promotional blitz typical for the traditional start of the holiday shopping season has high stakes for retailers who've suffered through a year of sales declines. It's also important for the broader economy, which could use a kickstart from consumer spending.

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.