Ala. shoppers flock to stores looking for deals

Shoppers turned out by the thousands to take advantage of Black Friday bargains and to get an early start on Christmas shopping in Alabama.

Some shoppers said they hoped Black Friday bargains would help take the sting off tough economic times.

Lashee Crenshaw of Montgomery, shopping at the capital city's Eastdale Mall, said she attempted to get an early head start on her Christmas shopping at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night, but gave up because crowds were too rowdy.

"People were arguing and had been in line since 7," Crenshaw said.

She said she was back out at 5 a.m. Friday looking for shoes, clothes, electronics and almost anything on sale. She said she feels the economy has forced people to look for early deals.

"With this economy you have to get your stuff today, if you are going to get a deal," she said.


The early shoppers were filling their shopping carts with items ranging from toy bears to home furnishings. Clothing items and electronics seemed particularly popular.

Sitting in the food court at Eastdale Mall, almost close enough to the mall's Santa that he could overhear her wish list, Crenshaw's 11-year-old daughter, Myla, said she was hoping for electronics.

"I'm really looking for a computer, a laptop or an iPad," Myla said.

Crenshaw's mother-in-law, Betty Crenshaw, hadn't planned to buy anything before going out with her daughter Friday.

"I wanted shoes, so I bought shoes," she said pointing to a shopping bag.

The crowds Friday were mostly at big stores and at shopping malls. In Birmingham, owners of smaller shops say they don't expect one day to make or break their Christmas season.

Black Friday was a bust at Cameras Brookwood, a Birmingham-area camera store, but owner Dennis Wammack said that's not unusual.

"Typically the Fridays and Saturdays after Thanksgiving are very slow because people are at the big boxes," said Wammack, whose Cameras Brookwood store is located in Vestavia Hills. "It's even slower than regular days. It always has been."

This year, though, Wammack hoped for a weekend boost from Small Business Saturday, a promotion started by American Express to increase Thanksgiving weekend sales at locally owned stores that often are overlooked by bargain shoppers. The credit card company is offering a $25 credit for purchases made at participating businesses, and Wammack said he will match the offer to shoppers Saturday.

"That would give them a total of $50 off, and hopefully that would bring some of our regular customers in," he said.

Bill Patridge had a "pretty busy" Black Friday at his Dirt Bike Supply store, a motorcycle shop he owns in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham, but on a much smaller scale than large retailers.

"I'm not like Walmart. People weren't waiting on me to open this morning," said Patridge.

Patridge said his business was off about 30 percent last year from the year before, and his sales for this year are currently as much as 30 percent below 2010 levels.

"I'm a hobby-type deal. People don't have to have what I sell. But I'm an optimist," said Patridge. His big worry for this weekend was generating some sales before kickoff of the Iron Bowl game on Saturday afternoon between Alabama and Auburn.

"My business will die with the Alabama-Auburn football game after lunch," he said. "I guess there are some people who don't care much about it, but not many."

Ed Smith, a 69-year-old retired Army veteran and former school teacher, said he was excited to see so many cars in the parking lot of a Montgomery J.C. Penneys when he arrived to pick up a tuxedo he had purchased earlier.

"People are buying things. They are carrying lots of bags. The parking lot is staying full. I would say things are going according to the retail plan," Smith said.

Unlike Lashee Crenshaw, Lisa Girdner of Wetumpka, said she didn't start shopping until midday Friday.

"It's good and crowded, but it's not overwhelming," Girdner said. She said she was buying a few things, including a stuffed bear, but she didn't expect to do all of her Christmas shopping Friday.


Associated P writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)