When Brandon Hickman finished his Thanksgiving shift at Michael’s on Columbia’s Harbison Boulevard at 2 a.m. Friday, he thought he would do something he never had before – experience a little Black Friday shopping.
So he showed up at the Harbison Best Buy shortly before 4 a.m., anticipating a 5 or 6 a.m. opening. To his surprise, the store wasn’t going to open until 8 a.m. – and he was all alone.
An hour and half later, a handful of others had shown up and at least he had someone to talk to. And by 7:30 a.m. there was a meager crowd of only 40 people, most lined up for the electronics giant’s annual deals on wide-screen televisions.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I guess everyone came out on Thanksgiving.”
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As more and more national retailers open their doors on turkey day, the once mighty Black Friday – on which hoards of early birds camp out in parking lots to take advantage of doorbuster deals – has faded to gray.
But that doesn’t mean folks are buying less. Overall, holiday sales should be higher this year due to cheaper gasoline prices, lower unemployment and a generally improving economy.
The National Retail Federation predicts Christmas sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion this year, the highest increase since 2011.
The thinning Black Friday crowds just mean people have more options for savings, with less hassle – Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday chief among them. Some retailers even started offering Black Friday-like deals as early as Nov. 1.
The majority of those in line at Best Buy on Friday seemed to be there for two reasons: A limited number 50-inch Vizio televisions marked down to $500 from $799 for Friday morning only, and the party.
Studies have shown that many of those who gather in the early morning hours for Black Friday now are millennials, ages 18 to 29, who show up early for the fellowship and to check out gear and prices at stores in person. In many cases, they will make their purchases online later.
At Best Buy on Friday, the crowd would enthusiastically shout “Greg!” in unison every time Greg Wittig, the supervisor charged with organizing the opening, emerged from the front door. It was a fun way to pass the time.
Peter Cha, 22, even improvised a fake mustache and unibrow to poke fun at the beleaguered and heavily bearded supervisor. “We’re just here messing with Greg,” he said.
Shoppers had crowded into Best Buy and a range of other retailers on Thursday. But some national retailers have bucked the trend of opening on Thanksgiving.
Academy Sports, which opened a store just off Harbison in July, held to tradition. It was closed Thursday, but opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday with doorbuster deals available only Friday and Saturday. Particularly deep were the discounts on firearms, which drew the largest crowds.
About 100 people showed up early, and another 100 or so stayed in their cars in the 28-degree chill until the doors opened.
The number surprised manager Brian Dodge, who expected fewer shoppers, given the trend. “We had a really good turnout,” he said.
Dodge worked at Wal-Mart for two decades. The retailing giant for years has stayed open for 24 hours over the holiday.
Dodge particularly enjoyed being with friends on Thanksgiving, having a relaxed holiday meal and watching football.
“That was my second Thanksgiving off in 20 years,” he said. “It was really nice.”