Shoppers, retailers: Thank goodness for Black Friday

The line to enter to the Coach handbags store at the Gilroy

Forget laptops, iPads and high-definition TVs priced so low they
shorten Thanksgiving feasts into mere appetizers. As some retail
shops in Gilroy opened as early as 9 p.m. Thursday for the annual
Black Friday holiday shopping rush, one could argue the most
coveted item was a heaping dose of caffeine.
Forget laptops, iPads and high-definition TVs priced so low they shorten Thanksgiving feasts into mere appetizers. As some retail shops in Gilroy opened as early as 9 p.m. Thursday for the annual Black Friday holiday shopping rush, one could argue the most coveted item was a heaping dose of caffeine.

“I got coffee, 5-Hour Energy, Red Bull in me – you name it, I got it,” said Matthew Hindy, a manager at The Shoe Palace in the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

Hindy, who arrived to work at 8:45 p.m. Thursday, was still rolling along by 11:30 a.m. Friday, ringing up purchases on a store cash register.

“You should have seen it earlier,” Hindy said. “We had lines out the door. It was nuts.”

Less than two miles away from the retail Mecca, nearly every parking spot was filled in front of the Kohl’s department store in the Pacheco Pass Shopping Center by midnight. Signs inside the store evoke thoughts of amusement park trips, reading, “15 minutes from checkout” to assure shoppers of how long they’d likely be waiting.

When Best Buy opened, also at midnight, the line of shoppers stretched around the building, said Frank Callum the store’s general manager.

“I would call it controlled chaos,” Callum said. “We had some big crowds, that’s for sure.”

Just about every retail destination across the country boasted huge turnouts as well, as an estimated 226 million shoppers – a Black Friday record – visited stores and websites Thursday through Sunday, according to the National Retail Federation. Of those, 86.3 million strolled into stores on Friday alone.

In all, consumers spent an estimated $52.4 billion over the weekend, with the average holiday shopper forking over nearly $400, up from $365 a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation.

Officers from the Gilroy Police Department were on hand at Best Buy to assist with crowd control, though Callum said everyone was on their best behavior. He said sales hit high marks from midnight to 2 a.m., with prized laptops and TVs – including a 42-inch HD model for $199 – making up the largest chunks.

Over at Walmart, blu-ray DVD players were going for as little as $49, while some DVDs were priced at under $2. The coveted tablet e-reader Amazon Kindle was snatched up at just $85 at Target, where laptops were available for $249.

“You should see these deals. They’re hot,” Callum said. “We had a constant flow of traffic. It was full.”

Those “hot” deals mean good things for the city of Gilroy. Sales tax dollars account for roughly 45 percent of all tax revenues brought in by the City of Gilroy – and those tax revenues make up three-quarters of the city’s $38-million annual general fund.

Black Friday was the latest push in what’s been an upward trend for the coveted revenues: The city announced in September that second-quarter sales tax revenues were up 9.7 year over year. It could also prove to be the city’s second straight successful holiday season – revenues were up more than 7 percent in September-December 2010, according to city figures.

The Gilroy Welcome Center, located in the Gilroy Premium Outlets since its move from downtown in September, didn’t open until 7 a.m. Friday, but Executive Director Jane Howard says she showed up late Thursday night just to see how many people would turn out to shop.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Howard said. “We’re here watching these crowds, saying, ‘Oh my goodness.’ “

Even Howard had a line – albeit one person – waiting to enter the Welcome Center Friday morning.

“This is so great for Gilroy,” Howard said. “And it’s been a good shopping day with good weather.”

More than 20 people waited in line at a Starbucks coffee kiosk around 11 a.m. Friday morning. Just a few steps away, the line for the Coach handbags store trickled back nearly 100 people.

Black Friday had a new wrinkle this year at the famed Outlets.

While the shops collectively held their seventh-annual “midnight madness,” 20 of the center’s 146 stores got a head start, opening as early as 9 p.m. Thursday. By 10 p.m., half of the stores had opened, approximately two hours before some local big box shops, said Jeannie Omel, general manager for the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

“They wanted us to be here early,” Omel said of the thousands of shoppers who inundated the center’s stores and walkways. “They were here. They were waiting.”

On top of beefed-up private security making its normal rounds, Gilroy police officers were also on hand, Omel said.

“Logistically, it seems to be working for the merchants and the shoppers,” she said. “We’ve spoken to some of the merchants and they said they would do it again next year.”

While the Outlets and big shops were a sea of heads, Gilroy’s local downtown business weren’t feeling the same kind of push, though many stores had signs posted on their windows urging visitors and residents to stay and shop.

“I’m not expecting a big boom of business,” said Dave Peoples, owner of the Nimble Thimble and Garlic City Mercantile.

Peoples said downtown businesses were mostly dependent on Black Friday shoppers meandering into the area for lunch.

“I’d like to think that we’ll catch a few walking by,” he said.

Joyce Duarte of downtown antiques store Collective Past said she was waiting two hours Friday morning before a single customer walked into the shop. Still, she remained hopeful that traffic would spill over to Monterey Street at some point.

“Maybe they’ll get tired of shopping at the Outlets and come on in and find something good,” Duarte said. “I’ve had men come in and say, ‘I left my wife at the Outlets and I came here to find something unique.'”

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