Black Friday starts holiday shopping

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Megan Butler of Ironton was up early today, browsing through toys at Big Lots on South Second Street in Ironton.

"I'm shopping for my niece," she said, as she perused a child's beauty vanity set.

This is the first year that 18-year-old Butler has had her license during Christmas and was able to drive herself to shop at her own convenience, and she took advantage of her new freedom to get in some early-hours shopping before she went to work.

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Pat Cartmell of Ironton passed Butler in the aisle. "I always do this," Cartmell said as she pushed her cart through the store at 6:45 a.m.

Like Butler, Cartmell is hoping to find bargains and is willing to get up and look for them in the early hours of the first official day of the holiday shopping season.

J.C. Adkins, Big Lots manager, said he was glad to see the shoppers come in early, but was bracing for bigger crowds in the early afternoon.

"I think this year will end up a lot like last year," he predicted. "I think with gas prices up and that kind of thing it may keep shoppers away at first but as Christmas gets closer I think it will pick up."

Adkins may have a point: national economists agree that this year's shopping season may end up a case of deja vu, with shoppers shelling out about as much money for gifts this year as last.

''The conditions are right for a pretty good Christmas," Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said. Like Adkins, he predicted increases of 3 to 4 percent for the holiday period.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation

is also predicting an increase of 4.5 percent for the November-December period.

Many merchants are hoping to lure customers in with special giveaways and promotions. Allyn's Jewelers offers free gift wrapping to customers who purchase goods at that store. Allyn's will also have a diamond show from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. today, with a manufacturer's representative on hand to answer questions and display merchandise. Big Lots gave away free radios to the first 100 shoppers today.

Some national economists are predicting that luxury items will be strong sellers this year, and Allyn said he thinks this may be the case. "Our three-stone diamond pendants have been selling well this year, and so are rings. I think it will pick up even more. And our mid-priced watches have been selling well."