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Retailers see green; buyers see bargains

By Nicole Gerring

From Port Huron Times Herald, November 25, 2006

JUGGLING ACT: Don Spaggins of Port Huron has his hands full shopping for toys for his 5-year-old Friday inside Toys "R" Us in Fort Gratiot.

They call it Black Friday, but clear skies and bargains made the day after Thanksgiving sunny for area shoppers.

Some were up before sunrise to catch deals on toys, electronics and other holiday gifts, but latecomers said they also managed to snag bargains.

Mary Ann Quain of Emmett Township started shopping at 10 a.m. with her two adult daughters, Anne Tucker of Brighton and Judy Franklin of Clawson.

"We're not willing to get up that early," Franklin said, standing beside a cart stacked high with Lego sets she found at half price at Toys "R" Us. "I was glad I found what I wanted. I kind of know what (my children) want, and it so happens some of the things are on sale."

Retailers nationwide are predicting 137 million shoppers this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. The federation predicts sales will be 5% higher than last year.

The Michigan Retail Federation's outlook is a little less rosy but still optimistic. The federation predicts holiday shopping will be up 4.4% from 2005 and that Michigan shoppers will spend $45 billion during November and December.

Tom Scott, spokesman for the Michigan Retailers Association, said the gradual extension of the holiday season has caused sales not only before Halloween, but also at midnight Black Friday and even on Thanksgiving - "Black Thursday" in the retail industry.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is generally when retailers see their year go from being in the red to being in the black, hence "Black Friday."

Monday has been dubbed Cyber Monday for the day retailers post online sales hoping to lure office employees to their sites.

"We've seen in recent years more sales at the beginning of the season, and this year is probably the best example. We've seen some real aggressive promotions. Some stores are open on Thanksgiving day, some are open at midnight," Scott said. "Every retailer wants to get the season off to the best start."

Meijer and Kmart stores offered Black Thursday sales this year.

Items on sale at Meijer included a 42-inch plasma TV monitor for $499, a six-speaker home theater system for $59 and a George Foreman Jumbo Grill for less than $40.

Melanie Askew, 14, of St. Clair was at the front of a line of people camped outside the Best Buy in Fort Gratiot at 2 a.m. Friday. Askew arrived at the store at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to get the best deals.

A Hewlett Packard laptop sale priced at $380 made for a sleepless night and a holiday dinner in plastic containers worthwhile, she said.

Times Herald photos by MELISSA WAWZYSKO

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Lisa Moen, left, of Wadhams joins fellow shoppers, Martha Broughton of Port Sanilac, and her daughter Jennifer Broughton of Grand Rapids, as they contemplate the depleted selection of Magnetix toys Friday at Toys "R" Us.

"My mom brought (Thanksgiving dinner) to me at 4 p.m. It was still good," Askew said.

Although hordes of shoppers filled the streets, stores and malls Friday, many Michigan residents aren't flush with cash. Michigan consumers may not meet retail predictions due to high unemployment and struggling industries, Scott said.

"A 4.5 % increase (in sales) overall may be a little optimistic given the fact that Michigan's economy has been struggling," he said. "In tough times, they will cut back on (spending). They'll still buy, they'll just buy at a reduced level. The good news for the consumers is that there are some really good bargains out there."

Scott said lower gas prices may help boost holiday sales.

"Every dollar a consumer puts in their gas tank is a dollar they can't spend at a retail store," he said.

Other consumers are choosing to pare down at the holidays not because of need but in defiance of the increasingly commercial nature of the season, said Aiden Enns of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who founded the Buy Nothing Christmas movement.

The campaign offers suggestions for alternative gifts, such as giving money to nonprofit organizations, volunteering or making a meal for loved ones rather than buying presents.

Susan Alderman of Fort Gratiot and her family save comic strips all year for wrapping paper. It's environmentally friendly because the comics can be recycled, she said.

Reducing waste is one of the key goals behind the Buy Nothing Christmas movement.

"Their (comics) colors are festive and vibrant, perfect for our holiday wrap. It is a small thing, but we intend to build on our green efforts in all aspects of our lives," Alderman said. "We're trying to teach our children about the impact humans have on the Earth."

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