Valley shoppers rock Black Thursday
In what one woman described as a rock concert setting, holiday shoppers swarmed retail stores Thursday evening as Black Friday arrived a day early in the Mid-Mon Valley.
Men and women, young and old, flocked through the doors of Walmart and Kmart in Rostraver Township, not long after some finished their turkey and stuffing.
“We were here at 6 and it was like a rock concert letting in,” said Elizabeth Prater, 26, of Masontown.
She and several family members were leaving Walmart nearly two hours later.
“I'm happy we came, and we got some good deals. ... The only bad thing is we had to leave almost right after dinner,” Prater said.
Around 4:30 p.m., more than a dozen Walmart employees wearing bright yellow vests stood along the storefront sidewalk, making sure no vehicles snuck through. Metal barricades blocked off both sides of the storefront and the end of each parking row.
Parking spaces were at as much a premium as the items inside.
Michael Wheatley, 16, of Charleroi said it was his first – and last – Black Friday experience. Wheatley said he wanted a 32-inch television, but by the time he reached the back of the store, the flat screens were sold out.
“They just swept in and grabbed them all,” Wheatley said. “I honestly didn't think there'd be that many people. … I'm done with this.”
At Kmart, all eight checkout lanes were packed with shopping carts. Six employees manned the service counter processing a mountain of returned merchandise.
Manager Jim Kurta had been at the store since 5 a.m. — part of the company's “Triple Doorbuster” promotion. With a wide smile, he high-fived an employee as she walked past, telling her, “the worst is over.”
“There was an overwhelming demand by shoppers for us to stay open at a time that best fits their schedules,” Kurta said. “Some are here for the deals, some are here for the experience, and it's become a tradition for them.”
Kurta said employees worked shifts during the three-day shopping rush, adding some volunteered for overnight shifts.
“It's a true team effort. This is our Super Bowl, and everyone has a part to play. … This is also a great chance for college students home on break to earn some extra income,” Kurta said.
“No seasonal time comes without its challenges, and we're fortunate enough to have some pretty dedicated employees.”
Kurta said the store's Black Friday promotion went smoothly. Phase II came at 7 p.m. Thursday — one hour earlier than last year.
Kurta said that with Thanksgiving falling on a later date this year, a “shorter selling season” has factored into increased store hours.
“We stay organized and try to buffer shoppers' discontent with limited-quantity items by giving them tickets if we sell out,” Kurta said.
“It's gone fairly smoothly. We were well-supplied and well-stocked for this, and things have stayed very organized.”
Clyde Bittner of West Newton popped into Kmart to purchase one item — a Christmas gift for his wife. Bittner said he empathized with the store's employees for having to work on Thanksgiving, but the discount was too good to pass up.
“Heaven forbid you give employees time off for a holiday. I feel for them,” Bittner said.
Still, a deal is a deal, he said.
“I drive a school bus for a living, so I don't have the luxury of spending a lot of money for gifts,” Bittner said. “Most of it goes just to pay bills.”
Tom Jolley, 59, a real estate agent from Fayette City, said he's shopped Black Friday midnight sales before and found Thursday's early-evening venture went much smoother.
“The lines, I thought, were a lot shorter unless you wanted a (smart) tablet, although they didn't have as much selection for all ages as they have before,” Jolley said. “I think it's better than coming in the middle of the night. Plus, this was the first year I'm shopping for grandkids, so that was exciting.”
Prater said shoppers are routinely pushy or rude, adding it's part of the Black Friday experience.
“I try not to be rude, but I'm not shy,” she said, loading the last item – a children's art set – into her trunk.
“This is our favorite contact sport. That's what we call it, and that's what it is – a contact sport.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.