BENNINGTON -- Black Friday started early in southern Vermont, with shoppers lining up outside some of the bigger stores before Thanksgiving had ended.

At Walmart on Thursday evening, employees had set up barricades outside to control the lines, while people waited in the below-freezing temperatures for up to 15 minutes to get inside the store, which employees explained was "at capacity."

Electronics were popular according to shoppers, who said they were hoping to get sale items such as gaming consoles, video games and laptops.

At J. C. Penney, employees saw busy hours between 8 and 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, with store-goers taking advantage of sales on home electronics and kitchenware.

"Last night was really busy but then at four this morning it picked up again," said Alex Rayner, in her second year as a member of the customer service department.

"People were looking for blenders and waffle makers -- things for the house," said Rayner, who worked on both days and noted that clothes still remain a popular Christmas gift choice for families.

Busier than last year

Local businesses also said they were busier this year than they were on the same weekend last year.

Fiddlehead at Four Corners experienced an influx of tourists, according to Joey Kulkin, manager of the local craft and art gallery.

"We had a lot of people coming in from the Albany area," said Kulkin, now in his second holiday season working at the store. "I think that bodes well for the weekend."

Attributing the busy sales day to the clear, if cold, weather, and their prominent location on Main St., Kulkin estimated that as many as a third of the shoppers who visited Fiddlehead on Friday traveled from Albany, Schenectady or Troy.

"They mostly said they wanted to come to Vermont to get away for the day -- away from some of the busier crowds," he said, describing a hectic morning with 40 to 50 shoppers in the store at one point.

"I would say we had robust sales and great traffic," said Kulkin, summing up the start of what he hopes will be an even busier weekend.

The shop sells jewelry, fine art and ceramics, and is owned by Nina and Joel Lentzner, who opened the business in 2000.

Business was busy as usual for the seasonal opening of Pleasant Valley Tree Farm. "It's been a good day so far," said Erica, who was working at the tree farm on Friday afternoon.

"We're usually busy on the day after Thanksgiving," she said of the local residents who waited until after the holiday to take home their trees.

Trees are available for purchase daily at the Pleasant Valley Road location, where they can be cut down or found pre-cut from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

At Knapps, a music, toy and hobby store, employees opened the doors for the first black Friday event on Main Street in eight years.

"It's been a good day so far," said Jayne Outwater, an owner of the family-run business. "It's nice to be back here," she said of leaving the space they previously occupied on North Street.

In celebration of both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, Knapps offered special deals which will continue through Saturday, including 30 percent off music accessories and 40 percent discounts on all toys.

They also arranged to offer live entertainment, featuring The Ron Olson Band, who played on Friday to folks who were still out enjoying the long weekend after a busy day of shopping.

"We wanted to offer something that was festive and free," said Outwater. "This is a nice way to invite people to our store."

Ron Olson and Dylan Olson will play at Knapps again on Saturday, from 3 to 5 p.m. Look for extended store hours on Friday nights and Sundays throughout the holiday season.

For more information visit www.pleasantvalleytrees.com, www.getartbehappy.com, www.knappsonline.com.

Contact Khynna at kkuprian@benningtonbanner.com and follow her on Twitter @khynnakat.