Originally created 11/29/03

Customers fight crowds, rain



Shoppers galore awoke in the wee hours of the morning Friday to hunt for holiday bargains, focusing their buying on electronic gadgets and hot toys making their debut.

Traditionally one of the year's busiest shopping days, the Friday after Thanksgiving is dubbed "Black Friday" because the buying spree can push retailers out of the red and into the black, from loss to profit.

For consumers, the day was less black than gray as throngs braved bouts of rain and slick roads to get their first glimpse of the holiday season's early-bird specials.

Still, the stormy weather did little to dampen the festive spirit, something Patrick Clifford can attest to.

The store manager of Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Evans, which had all 45 registers up and running, expects his store's sales to exceed last year's Black Friday by as much as 30 percent.

The boost comes on the back of popular electronic items and toys, including Apex DVD/CD players, HP Pavillion computers, remote control Hummers and cuddly Care Bears that are making a comeback.

The world's biggest retailer recorded a staggering $1.4 billion in sales the same day last year.

Roughly one in three Americans was expected to shop Friday, according to an American Express poll, braving long lines and controlled chaos to land their prized possessions. That meant jam-packed parking lots at the Augusta Mall and more than hourlong waits at checkout counters.

That's no sweat for Teresa Downs, a counselor at Paine College and a self-proclaimed shopaholic.

"It's just like drinking alcohol," she said jokingly at Toys "R" Us on Wrightsboro Road. "I don't drink, but after today I might."

Donna Wiley left her Harlem home at 4:45 a.m. with six others to get a jump on the day, and she can relate to the same addiction.

"Every year I say I won't do it again," Ms. Wiley said outside Old Navy at the Augusta Exchange after calling her friends on her cell phone because she lost them in the crowd. "But then I always come back and do it again."

In the store, a wave of hurried hands rifled and rummaged through sweater and sweat shirt racks, knocking apparel to the floor.

Retailers are counting on die-hard customers such as Ms. Downs and Ms. Wiley to help them realize the 6 percent sales increase they and industry-trackers are expecting over last year.

To boost sales and better compete, Target for the first time opened its doors at 6 a.m. - an hour earlier than usual - to hundreds of people.

"We had people lining up at 4:00, and by 5 to 5:30 they were wrapping about the building," said store manager Michael Autry. The store hired as many as 90 holidays workers to help handle the rush.

Xbox and PlayStation2 game consoles were selling well, Mr. Autry said, as was a Kawasaki six-speaker, five-disc DVD home theater system for $88.88.

"The Bratz dolls are huge this year and just blowing everything away," he said, referring to the edgy, sultry doll that has surpassed the clean-cut Barbie as the top-selling fashion doll.

Megan Foshee, of Modoc, S.C., put it best.

"Everybody's getting Bratz," the 12-year-old said. "Barbie's old."

SHOPPING STATS

  • The average consumer will spend $671.89 this season, most of it going to gifts and the rest to items such as greeting cards, flowers and candy.
  • About 64 million shoppers, or half the Internet users in the country, will shop online for gifts.
  • THREE BIGGEST SELLERS SINCE 1994:

    1) Jewelry

    2) Home entertainment and electronics

    3) Women's accessories and specialties

    Source: International Council of Shopping Centers, FOX News poll, National Retail Federation

    Reach Matthew Mogul, James Gallagher or Preston Sparks at (706) 724-0851.