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Retailers hope to avoid blue Christmas this Friday

The news on the economic front has been uniformly depressing in recent months. Plants are laying off workers, the stock market is plunging almost daily and bankruptcies are abounding. So what is the outlook of local retailers, as Black Friday – traditionally thought to be the biggest shopping day of the year – rapidly approaches?

“Cautiously optimistic” might be the best description.

“We are still anticipating a good Christmas, but, you never know what will happen. We actually have had a good year so far, in spite of everything,” said Bill McCrary, general manager for the Greenville Wal-Mart.

“We do have some great values to offer our customers next Friday, particularly in apparel items – clothes for the whole family. We are looking at one price point for children’s clothing and another for adults.”

Wal-Mart has already released its Black Friday specials online, with some hot ticket items like iPod value bundles available online only.

This year, McCrary said, there will be back-to-back sales tabs for the store, something that happens rarely.

“We will have one that features our Black Friday 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. specials and the sales for the rest of the day; a second tab will come out on Sunday,” he said.

“And we have a lot of price rollbacks and price reductions that will benefit the customer.”

McCrary said he had noticed a trend that seemed to develop during the peak gas prices earlier this year: “Customers are coming straight from work and doing their shopping, rather than going home and coming back. So we are seeing more shoppers between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.”

At Fred’s Discount Store in Greenville, owner/manager Randy Beeson said he is not anticipating a blue Christmas for his business.

“I do know a lot of people are hurting in this tough economy, so they are stretching their dollars the best they can and they are still shopping with us,” Beeson said.

“I can’t really complain; this is one of the best years we’ve had in 22 years. The main thing I’ve seen different is our big-ticket items are not going as quickly as in the past.”

The Fred’s manager said he anticipates more people shopping at super discount, mini discount and dollar stores versus high-end department stores and mall stores this holiday season, and more last-minute shopping.

“I think it’s taking a while for the fact gas prices have dropped to sink in enough for people realize they have a few extra dollars to spend,” Beeson said.

Fred’s will open at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving with a variety of early bird specials from opening until 11 a.m. along with drawings for door prizes.

“I am optimistic, but we are going to be up against some big numbers after Thanksgiving,” Beeson said.

“I may be singing a different story in five weeks. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”

According to a recent nationwide poll conducted by the Maritz Research Retail Group, 41 percent of respondents said they plan to shop on Black Friday, slightly higher than the 37 percent that said they were going to shop on the same day in the 2007. The average Black Friday shopper plans to spend 45 percent of their total holiday budget on the day after Thanksgiving. Clothes (23 percent) and electronics (17 percent) are by far the most shopped for categories on Black Friday.