KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- Fine weather and warm temperatures greeted Black Friday shoppers this year in the downtown area and the two major shopping plazas.
Jay's Hallmark Shop at Bennington Square opened at 4 a.m. this year as it has for the past few seasons. The only difference this year, said Manager Dan Zwynenburg, was that the Hallmark outlet was the only store in the plaza to be open that early. He said about 100 people were lined up outside the door shortly after it opened.
Zwynenburg said it's mostly holiday shoppers at his store. Hot items included the "Elf on the Shelf," a toy elf that comes with a story book explaining how it watches children during the day and reports their naughty/nice ratio to Santa Claus so he can dole out presents accordingly.
On Black Friday alone, more than 40 of the toys were sold at the shop.
Zwynenburg said he tries to target Christmas shoppers early. "Our window is completely decorated for Christmas by Columbus Day," he said. Hallmark ornaments also sell well.
The local Sears outlet at the Monument Plaza off Northside Drive reported slower than normal traffic for a Black Friday, but that could be because it opened from 8 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving Day, according to Trevor Derby, a salesman there.
Tools selling well
Derby said the store moved a lot of appliances Thursday, which were half off. He said tools have also been selling well, as they typically make good Christmas gifts. He said his store has also done many "fusion sales" in which customers order online then pick the item up at the store.
Large box stores also appeared to be doing well. The parking lots at Kmart and Walmart in Bennington Square and Monument Plaza respectively were full just before noon with a steady stream of people heading in and out. A man who did not wish to be named said that the night before, Walmart had a large line outside and was letting people in 10 at a time.
Rick and Ellen Havlak, owners of the Bennington Bookshop on Main Street, said Black Friday is not as big a sales day for them as two days before Christmas, but things have been steady. Rick Havlak said books are relatively inexpensive and many people get them as gifts close to the holiday. Right now most customers are the family and friends of locals who are taking them around Bennington.
Havlak said no one type of books sells better than others. "There's really no blockbuster everyone is asking for; it's across the board," he said, adding that Black Friday is more of a big-item buying day, although smaller stores see an increase in traffic.
Tasha Wallis, executive director of the Vermont Retail Association, said national forecasters are predicting a 4 percent increase in sales this Black Friday, which is down 1 percent from last year.
She said the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- with a number of federal tax cuts set expire at the end of the year if Congress does not act to change that -- could affect consumers' desire to spend, while online sales are growing in popularity.
Wallis said a trend this year seemed to be stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, at least nationally. "We didn't have a ton of stores open on Thanksgiving," she said, adding that many appear to be waiting to capitalize on the Small Business Saturday initiatives.
She said the movement toward earlier opening times is mainly coming from large retailers seeking to compete with online outlets, which are open all the time and can be shopped right after the Thanksgiving meal is finished.