This year's early holiday shoppers faced a dilemma: Do you shop at stores that started their sales on Thursday, or stick with stores observing the traditional Black Friday early-morning door-busters?
Peggy and Holly Caylor had a solution: Shop early and don't quit.
The Council Bluffs mother and daughter, respectively, hit Walmart, J.C. Penney, Target, Kmart and other stores Thursday night, then Target again for something they forgot.
At 4:15 a.m. Friday, they were sharing breakfast at the McDonald's restaurant in the Lake Manawa shopping area of the Bluffs.
“By the time we got back to Target, it was too late to sleep” and still hit stores with 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. openings, Holly said. “Now we're wasting some time until Gordmans opens.”
It's an annual event for the two. “It puts you in the spirit,” Peggy said.
They were among 80 million consumers expected to shop on Friday, the International Council of Shopping Centers said. That's twice as many as on Thursday, the council predicted. Nearly half of Americans will shop sometime over Thanksgiving weekend, considered the start of the holiday shopping season that is key to retailers' profits.
Opening on Thanksgiving is “fun for the consumers, but all they've done is just stretch it out,” said Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart, which opened at 6 a.m. Friday with the usual line of people who had camped out overnight.
But the Mart's customer parking lots had open spaces before and after Friday's 6 a.m. opening. In past years, the lot has been so full that some customers have parked in a shopping center lot across 72nd Street.
Friday's Nebraska-Iowa football game fell right in the middle of the day's shopping, Batt noted, which also pulled away some shoppers, at least temporarily.
Nationally, Walmart reported that despite a threatened strike by some workers because of the Thursday hours, its early tally was the best opening sale ever, with 10 million transactions between 8 p.m. and midnight Thursday.
At Omaha's Oak View Mall, manager Ted Harris also called this year “one of our strongest openings ever.”
He said the decision by some stores to open at midnight or on Thanksgiving Day created more of an ebb and flow at the mall. Many customers at the mall Friday had already hit big box stores Thursday evening.
“The store hours are increased by six hours,” Harris said. “It means people can hit more stores.”
Where lines did form, security guards and store employees kept things orderly.
At Cabela's La Vista store, shoppers who were waiting in line at 2:30 a.m. got 600 breakfast burritos and 40 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Father and son duo Paul and Josh Messerschmidt drove from Missouri Valley, Iowa, and said they enjoyed the festive atmosphere.
“We just came to look,” Paul Messerschmidt said. “We're Christmas shopping for ourselves.”
As the doors opened and customers came inside, Cabela's employees cheered. The first 50 people in line got gift bags and the first 600 got gift cards good for prizes. Customers streamed to a front counter to pick up free hats and binoculars, among other prizes.
The line outside Gordmans in the Bluffs snaked down to the end of the building and around the corner to the back, near the loading docks. Dozens of other shoppers waited in their cars, avoiding the 30-degree weather and gusty winds.
First in line was Kaitlyn Lorenzen with sister Megan and cousin Jillianne Kinney. They arrived at midnight, their Black Friday tradition.
“We slept for a while by the trash cans,” Jillianne said. Kaitlyn was interested in the experience, not the shopping. Besides the fun of being out with the girls, she said, “I just wanted to be first in line at Gordmans.”
After Gordmans, the trio planned to go to some other Bluffs stores. Jillianne was due at work at 8 a.m., and then later she would go to her second job and work from 5 p.m. to midnight at the Aéropostale store at Mall of the Bluffs.
Outside Nebraska Furniture Mart, Harry Brown and Shane Petersen, who married twin sisters Jessica and Julie, respectively, were close to the front of the line after waiting through the night and feasting on hot dogs served by the Mart.
They got vouchers to buy tablet computers at guaranteed sale prices until 10 a.m., a technique the Mart uses to keep things orderly among shoppers. The Browns also were shopping for a bed and a dishwasher.
Megan Berry Barlow, the Mart's human resources director, used a bullhorn as the first shoppers came through the door: “Welcome to Nebraska Furniture Mart!”
A few younger shoppers started running toward their bargains, but most walked in, pulling off stocking caps or unwinding scarves.
One of the first to check out was Drew Combs of Omaha, who bought a $77.99 LG Slim Sound Bar, plus three video games.
Combs was among 13 friends making their third annual campout at the Mart. They held places in line in shifts, brought two tents and took turns at nearby fast-food restaurants — their Thanksgiving meals.
Customers were plentiful at Younkers' Westroads store, especially at 7 a.m. “We got $300 worth of stuff for, like, $100,” one woman said, carrying two heavy shopping bags up the escalator. “Now my arms are tired.”
Overnight, startled shoppers at Oak View and Westroads Malls called police to report shots fired, in both cases untrue.
About 1 a.m. Friday, two men got into a fight at Westroads and knocked over some signs, Omaha police said. The noise prompted the shots-fired rumor. Officers arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of disorderly conduct.
About 2:40 a.m. at Oak View, a 21-year-old woman suspected of shoplifting sprayed pepper spray into the faces of two security guards and a store employee in a loud disturbance that resulted in her arrest, police said.
The trouble disturbed few shoppers.
Omaha police spokesman James Shade said patrol officers found Thursday night's traffic unusually busy near shopping areas because of the early store openings. Some stores staggered their door-buster bargains, making some available at 8 p.m., some at 1 a.m. and some at 4 a.m.
“It keeps people coming,” he said.
At Village Pointe Shopping Center, sisters Tracey Schwartzkopf of Omaha and Nickie Pistillo of Des Moines started shopping at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Friday morning, they held armfuls of Christmas gifts: $14.99 NCAA hooded sweatshirts from the Scheels store.
Omaha sisters Angela Gansolley and Lindsay Northam started shopping Thanksgiving night and just kept going.
They wore turkey-shaped hats to Walgreens, Target, Walmart, the Gap, Bath and Body Works and J.C. Penney, where at 6:20 a.m. Friday they were trying on knee-high boots on sale for $20 and $40.
“We're still going to go to Kohl's, Younkers, Sears and Toys R Us,” Gansolley said. The best deal so far: $292 worth of toiletries at Walgreens for $62. Their Christmas list included bikes, a television, toys, appliances and linens.
The Oak View Penney's store offered a new mobile checkout system. Teresa Lautrup from Modale, Iowa, used the new system to buy some work shirts in the jewelry department rather than waiting in line at the checkout counter. “I like it,” she said. “It's fast and convenient.”
At the Furniture Mart, Chairman Irv Blumkin held a map showing where the “door crashers” were located, including $19.99 DVD players, $379 43-inch TVs, $169.99 laptops, $9.99 cordless electric wine bottle openers and $4.99 earbuds.
Blumkin, a grandson of Mart founder Rose Blumkin, said the Mart prides itself on having hundreds of each most-in-demand sale item in stock. All of the Mart's 1,600 Omaha staffers were on duty, most of them having taken shuttle buses from remote parking areas. Each checkout location had two stations instead of one.
“This is what retailers live for,” Blumkin said.
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