Many Shoppers Turned Out For Early Deals On Thanksgiving
BY JOHN M. JONES JR.
7:56 p.m., Thursday. Thanksgiving.
It's a clear, crisp chilly night, with temperatures in the 40s. Coat weather for most people, but far from freezing. About the conditions you'd hope for, and expect, on a late-November evening.
A handful of cars and an occasional pickup truck are parked here and there in front of the few large grocery stores that remain open at this hour on the holiday.
Shopping center lots are mostly empty, their storefronts dark, with no sign of activity.
Same with the parking lots of local restaurants, from Applebee's to McDonalds. Business seems clearly slow, at least by this time of the evening.
In the Greeneville Historic District, not a car is parked on either side of Main Street for the three downtown blocks from Church to McKee. Not even in front of the General Morgan Inn.
The community has enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday, eaten a good meal or two, watched some football on TV, and pretty much turned in to get ready to either go back to work in a few hours or hit the stores early for "Black Friday" shopping.
It turns out that how quiet the evening is all depends on where you are, and in some locations, "Black Friday" has very clearly begun.
SEVEN HOURS IN LINE
At Greeneville Commons, almost all storefronts are dark as 8 o'clock approaches, but the parking lot is rapidly filling up. Already there are hundreds of cars.
Beyond the cars, a line of impatient shoppers -- men, women, all ages, some in coats and jackets, others in sleeveless blouses -- stretches from the front door of Kmart to Belk, several stores away in the direction of Tusculum Boulevard.
Seventeen-year-old Cody Silvers, of Jonesborough, standing just outside the big glass doors at the head of the long line outside Kmart, says he has been there since 1 o'clock waiting for the store's evening shopping hours to begin at 8 o'clock.
(The store was open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving, then closed for four hours.)
What brought the 17-year-old to Greeneville from Jonesborough and made him ready to wait in line for seven hours to be first into the store on Thanksgiving night?
"A 50-inch TV set for $288!" he immediately responds, keeping an eye on the Kmart staff moving back and forth on the other side of the big doors.
Normally, the big TV set sells for $699.
(The sets went quickly, a store salesperson said about 10 p.m. There were about five to sell Thursday night, and Cody undoubtedly got one of them. )
Right behind him in the long and still-growing line stands his uncle, Wayne Pierce, 44, also of Jonesborough, who has also come in hopes of getting one of the 50-inch TVs.
Third in line is Joseph Reverson, of Greeneville, 55, who wants to buy one of the store's 24-inch TVs that this night will be sold for only $88. The normal price: $189.99.
(There were eight of the sets, a store clerk said a couple of hours later, and yep, all eight of them sold before 10 p.m.)
By the way, who said women were the most committed Christmas shoppers?
THE DOORS OPEN...
As wristwatches all up and down the line begin to show 8 o'clock, there is much activity inside the store near the front as clerks make final preparations for the onslaught
Those waiting in line tense a bit. The clerks inside probably do, too.
Suddenly, sometime between 8:01 and 8:02 by my watch, the door is unlocked and opened, and the long line immediately begins to stream into the store, led by Cody Silvers and his uncle.
The line of hundreds of shoppers enters the store rapidly, eagerly, but in a courteous, orderly way.
Once inside, the line fragments, each person moving immediately toward the section of the store where he or she has been waiting for hours to go. Everyone walks fast, and a few run.
Within 10 minutes, the entire line has evaporated -- and some of the first arrivals have already begun arriving at the check-out lanes with their prizes in hand.
NEW LINE FORMING
Meanwhile, back at Belk, a new line is beginning to form at the front door, in anticipation of the store's midnight opening for "Black Friday."
Within three hours, the line will stretch almost back to Tusculum Boulevard, but at 8:10 there are just three people, all from the same Greeneville family: Amber Selfridge, 22, her brother Joshua Selfridge, 26, and their mother, Diane Selfridge.
They have been at the door of the still-silent, darkened -- and prepared.
Blankets, chairs, and books are ready in their parked car if the air gets too cold, or the wait too tiring or boring.
But this is not a boring kind of evening. There's a lot of adrenaline in the air, and, it seems, plenty of Christmas spirit, too.
The Selfridges have made the commitment to be in position to enter the store first, they explain, in hopes of receiving a Belk gift card in an amount to make their wait worthwhile.
One of the cards, Diane Selfridge says, will be worth $1,000; the other gift cards are for a variety of lower amounts.
As we talk, others begin to arrive to join them in the line.
Everyone is cheerful and friendly, and ready to settle in for a few hours on the Greeneville Commons sidewalk.
'WALL TO WALL' CARS
A mile or so east, at the Walmart SuperCenter, gasoline is selling at an attractive discounted price, a few cents below most competitors on this night, but no one seems to be paying attention to the gas pumps.
It's 8:30, and the huge parking lot in front of the store is packed "wall to wall." Cars drive slowly up and down the dozens of rows hoping to find a slot, but not a single parking place seems open.
Still, as shoppers stream into the store from the parking lot, other shoppers emerge pushing shopping carts loaded or carrying bags -- giving hope to the circling drivers.
INTENSE COMPETITION FOR SHOPPERS
Welcome to Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping 2012.
It's a good deal different from what many will remember.
A trend in this direction began earlier, but it seems especially evident this year. At least locally.
While scheduling shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day and evening has been relatively rare in Greeneville in the past, this year "Black Friday" definitely began on Thanksgiving itself for many stores and shoppers.
Retailers generally consider the Friday after Thanksgiving the biggest and most important shopping day of the entire year.
For many stores, it's the day that determines whether they wind up the year "in the black" (in other words, with a profit), and if so, how far "in the black" they are when midnight comes on Dec. 31.
With the economy still weak in most areas of the country, competition for shoppers and their dollars is very intense.
As a result, many retailers here and elsewhere across the nation decided to open their doors for part or even all of the Thanksgiving holiday, and add the further incentive of lots of "door busters" -- extremely deep discounts on limited supplies of very popular items such as the 50-inch television set that brought Cody Silvers and his uncle from Jonesborough.
Officially, "Black Friday" began at 12:01 a.m. today, and some stores -- Belk, for example -- chose to open virtually at the stroke of midnight.
Others opened a few hours later -- at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 7 a.m. By 8, probably every retail store in town that wants to lure "Black Friday" Christmas shoppers was open for business and ready to answer questions and ring up purchases.
Many of the stores will extend their hours until far past 6 this evening. Officially, it's still "Black Friday" until midnight (although few stores will be open that long).
And then, of course, there is Saturday ...
The Christmas shopping season has begun.