Shoppers react to new Black Friday

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Early store openings made some traditional Black Friday shopping experiences happen a bit sooner, but Western Pennsylvania retailers overall still are expecting a modestly merrier sales season.

Hundreds of shoppers packed sidewalks and parking lots in the Waterfront on Thanksgiving to find the best deals.

While the Black Friday tradition reserved sales for the day after Thanksgiving in previous years, some stores opened as early as 6 a.m. on Thursday. Others had major sales at 6 p.m., while some retailers didn't open their doors until 8 p.m.

“If you want the deals you got to do it,” said Jatta Bluefort of Homestead. “I love the deals. I say if you want them, come out and get them.”

Hill District resident Kesha Primus said she liked the sales, but took issue with some stores opening on Thanksgiving morning.

“I don't think they should open at 6 in the morning, because that put a damper on people's cooking,” Primus said. “Eight p.m. is fine, but 6 in the morning — that's crazy.”

Primus said she planned to shop at Wal-Mart, Victoria's Secret and other stores, and started with Target.

“This is one of the most organized places to come,” Primus said about Target.

“Everything did go smooth,” said Lindsay Allanson, Waterfront Target store team leader. “We were prepared for it, just like last year. We only opened one hour earlier this year ... This is our second year for (working on Thanksgiving), so the teams are already pretty used to it. We probably had about 200 to 250 (customers) lined up. I'd say it was similar to last year.

“We try to hand out maps in line so the guests have a better understanding of where they're headed throughout the store. We have certain team members positioned throughout the store to help serve their needs,” she said.

Ashley Smrekar, a Dravosburg native who now lives in Washington, Pa., was out shopping Thanksgiving night with her mother Tammi Smrekar.

“Why not?” Ashley Smrekar said about shopping on the holiday. “What else is there to do after eating? It was easy. We came after (stores) opened. Parking was easy. It was fine. We had nice people in line that let us share their buggy.”

“I felt bad that everybody has to work on Thanksgiving,” Tammi Smrekar said, weighing whether holiday pay made up for missing gatherings at home. “Some people had to be here and didn't have dinner or anything like that ... But it is kind of nice not having to get up in the middle of the night (to shop).”

Eugene Short, an asset protection associate at Best Buy in the Waterfront, was checking customers' receipts as they were leaving. He said he didn't mind working on Thanksgiving.

“I would say that I'm thankful I have a job,” Short said. “If that job requires me to work on Thanksgiving, it still beats the alternative.”

Customers seemed to be in better moods than last year, Short observed.

“Everybody's been pretty nice and polite,” Short said. “When people get tired they get cranky. At 6 p.m. they're a lot more polite than they are at midnight after waiting out in line.”

John Franolich of Munhall did wait in line until midnight at that Best Buy with his son Paul Franolich to be guaranteed an Xbox One, the latest video game console from Microsoft.

John Franolich said they were the first people in line at 6 p.m. and did not want to risk losing their place for the special sale.

“You can't get them till midnight,” he said. “You can't buy them online. They're all sold out. It's either I wait here or who knows. It's hit or miss someplace else.”

John Franolich said his family had a better shopping experience this time than in previous years.

“Have you ever been out on Black Fridays where people are shoving to get to something?” John Franolich asked. “It's horrible. You think it's the end of the world. This year was much better, except for the fact that it's on Thanksgiving.”

Other shoppers who declined to give their names said they did not mind shopping after dinner or missing the Steelers football game against the Ravens. That game kicked off around 8:30 p.m. during the retail rush.

Gates framed entrances to the Wal-Mart in North Versailles Township to give consumers a clear path where they would not have to worry about vehicular traffic. Caution tape also was used inside the store to help with ingress and egress.

Employees there deferred comment to corporate media relations.

“Black Friday is our day — our Super Bowl — and we're ready to prove once again that no one does it better than Wal-Mart,” Bill Simon, Wal-Mart president and CEO announced via a news release. “We're excited to give our customers an incredible Black Friday with shopping hours that will allow them to take advantage of great prices on Thanksgiving night and all weekend long.”

Wal-Mart had Black Friday events at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and at 8 a.m. on Friday.

“Delivering for our customers wouldn't be possible without our associates. They are a critical component of our success throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season,” added Simon. “We appreciate each associate and the time they are dedicating to serve the families who shop our stores.”

Jeff Green, a veteran retail consultant in Phoenix, said major retailers “are concerned” about their prospects this holiday season, which is mainly why they stretched Black Friday hours into Thanksgiving by opening stores earlier than in 2012.

One consequence of the early openings was that crowds hit bix-box store

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or Staff writer Thomas Olson contributed to this report.

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