Shoppers out in force to kick off shopping season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 29, 2007

SOUTH POINT — By 4:45 this morning, the sidewalk outside Sam’s Club resembled a mini version of the Boston Marathon just before the starting pistol cracks.

Throngs were five deep outside the store vying to be the earliest of the early bird shoppers.

Temperatures just above freezing and a rigorous squall of snow pelting down did nothing to stop the steady stream of bargain hunters flowing across the parking lots to check out this year’s Black Friday sales.

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The Christmas shopping season has begun.

Teri McKinley, who for the past year has called Cabot, Ark., home, was back visiting family in Huntington for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Patiently, she waited for Sam’s Club’s doors to open.

“I’m hunting for a Wii. They’re in short supply,’’ she said, seemingly oblivious to the damp cold.

A Sam’s Club employee, Sharon Brooks of Kenova, was looking for a new television. As to why she beat the dawn to go shopping?

“Just because. No reason,’’ she said.

Nearby, at Sam’s sister store, the Wal-Mart Supercenter, a steady stream of shoppers, most in heavy sweat shirts and knit caps, grabbed shopping carts and store maps as they headed inside.

It was the first time for Cyndi Turner of Burlington — with one of her five children in tow — to be such an early shopper.

“We wanted to see what other people were out,” she said. “And he couldn’t sleep so I dragged him along.’’

Not so for Cassie Day of Chesapeake, who has turned Black Friday shopping into a family tradition.

As she headed for the Wal-Mart she said she was on her way to meet her mother-in-law and her husband’s grandmother. The trio was expecting to make it another marathon event. The last time they got together for Christmas shopping, it lasted until 11 that night.

“We sit down the night before and plan,’’ she said.

Veteran shoppers Darren and Kena Schuggs of Ironton, have been hitting the stores at pre-dawn hours for about 20 years.

“We’re crazy,’’ Darren said. “It’s for the best bargains of the year.’’

That’s what Lee Ann Smith of Huntington, who has three sons and 19 nieces and nephews to buy for, is hoping.

“Last year we did really good,’’ she said.

And it’s that lure of low prices that retailers hope will make Christmas 2007 a record year. Nationally, experts say stores bring in typically between 10 to 20 percent of their annual sales during the December holidays.

High gas and food prices and a slow housing market hit some retailers across the country in October. What will unfold during the next two months has experts divided.

But apparently, if the opening hours of Black Friday are any indication, that’s not the case locally.

Just a few minutes after its doors opened at 6 a.m. assistant manager, Charles Cooksey at the Kmart in Chesapeake, sounded jubilant by shoppers’ response.

“It’s wild,’’ he said. “I can’t believe it. They’re still coming in the doors. They’re pouring in.’’

However, not everyone was happy with the year’s Black Friday foray. Samantha Hatcher of Burlington and a friend were looking for a rock star video game at the Wal-Mart.

“It wasn’t on sale,’’ she said. “We woke up for nothing.’’