KINGSPORT — It was 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Black Friday.
Do you know where the serious shoppers from your circle of family and friends were?
They could have been at J.C. Penney at the Kingsport Town Center or Kohl’s at Kingsport Pavilion, which both opened at 4 a.m.
Or maybe they were on their way to Wal-Mart on Stone Drive or Fort Henry Drive. Those stores and KB Toys in the Kingsport Town Center were open overnight but started door busters at 5 a.m., joined or followed by other retailers before dawn.
“Can’t find it,” Amy Hartsock of Kingsport said at the West Stone Drive Wal-Mart while standing in line about 5:40 a.m. She was referring to Baby Alive and had her mother, sisters-in-law and brother somewhere in the store, too.
“I’m going home after this,” Hartsock said. “I’ll pay full price before I do this.”
Another man standing near the electronics section said he talked his wife into shopping Friday, “but never again.”
However, Tina Clendenin of Church Hill, in line near Hartsock, said she was happy to be shopping at all since her husband’s been laid off.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the girls I work with,” Clendenin said. “They took up some money so I could come shop today.”
Clendenin said she was trying to make every dollar and penny count for her purchases, which included clothes and an AC/DC gift pack.
April Marburger of Kingsport also was in line, pushing a shopping cart with a Christmas tree, dolls and an MP3 player. Marburger said she goes shopping Black Friday every year and was headed next to Kohl’s.
“This is a little bit crazier than I’m used to,” Marburger said. “They’ve got better deals than they had last year.”
Deals such as $199 Xbox 360 gaming consoles with “Guitar Hero” and other games quickly sold out, as did televisions and other electronics. Also flying out the doors were $4 Crock Pots and mini-choppers, while the $4 hand mixers were gone by 5:30 a.m.
At Wal-Mart and Target, such door buster items were spread throughout the store in non-traditional places, including the Xbox consoles near the milk section and other electronics in groceries or between groceries and clothing.
Wal-Mart had pallets of door busters covered in black plastic, meant to be removed at 5 a.m. but removed by anxious shoppers — at least for $29 all-in-one printers — at about 4:55 a.m.
Regina Britton of Church Hill was shopping at the Stone Drive Wal-Mart and later at Target on the east end of Stone Drive. She also visited Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kohl’s before heading to the Kingsport Town Center, formerly the Fort Henry Mall.
Britton said she makes the shopping pilgrimage every year, scouring the stores for bargains and watching the spectacle that is Black Friday.
“I brought Randy (her husband) four years ago, and he got addicted,” Britton said of the annual shopping trip that also includes her daughter. “We love to watch the people.”
She said electronics, including a GPS for her daughter and a Blu-ray DVD player, were among her purchases.
“Anything we see and think it’s a good deal, we throw it in the cart,” Britton said.
Matt Klucher, store “team leader” for the Target at Kingsport Pavilion, said Black Friday is the “first big indicator” for how the holiday sales season will go.
He said it was a good one this year. Folks lined up to Dick’s before the doors opened, and Kohl’s being open at 4 a.m. helped drive traffic to Target when it opened at 6 a.m.
“So far, so good,” Klucher said.
Kevin Harmon, general manager of the Kingsport Town Center, said the recent cold weather has helped drive clothing sales at J.C. Penney and other retailers. He said the line at J.C. Penney formed about 3:15 a.m.
“When it’s 60 degrees, it’s hard to buy a sweater,” Harmon said.
Harmon said he’s been surprised at the level of retail activity, adding that he believes people are taking advantage of the lower gasoline prices but are still leery those prices could jump dramatically. Prices peaked at around $4.50 to $5 a gallon earlier this year, compared to $1.70 a gallon or less Saturday.
Harmon and Klucher said sales leading up to Black Friday this year were better than last year.
Klucher said video games and consoles, toys and electronics are popular this year, adding that the Wii Fit game software is proving more popular and possibly harder to get than the Wii console required to play it. Flat-screen televisions are popular, too, he said.
“The Wii Fit seems to be ‘the’ item for Christmas,” Klucher said.
Target’s Black Friday sale technically continues through 11 tonight, and some items will be restocked by this morning — although Klucher said popular GPS units, DVDs and toys would not necessarily be in the new shipment.
Other retailers have a new round of door busters for today, including J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Big Lots.
Harmon agreed that electronics, toys and video games were among the hottest items.
Parking lots at the mall and other retailers were not always packed Friday morning, with an ebb and flow of shoppers coming at different times at different places.
“The early openings have really spread out now,” Harmon said, predicting that stores will open earlier and earlier. In some markets, stores open at midnight.
“It used to be everybody opened at the same time, with KB (Toys) first, then the others,” Harmon said, recalling 6:30 a.m. used to be the traditional start time for Black Friday — which is so named because it is reported to be the day retailers go into the black with a profit for the year.
A checkout clerk at Big Lots about 9:20 a.m. said the $5 Tickle Me Cookie Monster and Tickle Me Ernie dolls went in just a few minutes.
Harmon said the toy retailers haven’t hit a home run with a repeat of the Tickle Me Elmo dolls in the late 1990s, but toys overall were selling well. The closest thing would be the Elmo Live and Ultimate WALL-E.
Toys also tie into the underlying family and friends theme Harmon attributed to Black Friday.
“It’s more than just trying to find a bargain. It’s being with friends and family and just having fun,” Harmon said.
Three friends who graduated from Volunteer High School together reunited Friday to make their traditional shopping trip, taking a swing through the Belk’s Home Store at the Kingsport Town Center.
“The digital picture frames were the big thing,” said Caren Bates of Cookeville, who was shopping with Mary Ann Davis of Surgoinsville and Nikki Collier of Surgoinsville.
Davis said the digital frame and a GPS were on her list, too, and as of 10 a.m. she was having pretty good luck — except with parking.
“At 5 o’clock we had to park behind Wal-Mart,” Davis said.