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Hardy Black Friday shoppers brave snow, ice and cold

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Oh, the difference a day makes.

Retailers hopeful for holiday profits on the official start to the Christmas shopping season no doubt were

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dismayed at the change in the

weather.

This Black Friday didn’t see the remarkable crowds from last year’s mild November night when some stores began a more concentrated push to open earlier. In 2011, Black Friday was more about staying up late than getting up early as doorbusters moved from 4 a.m. to midnight.

This year, shoppers didn’t even have to stay up late as some big box stores opened at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Others like Costco, Mills Fleet Farm, Menards, Home Depot and J.C. Penney, for example, chose to remain closed on Thanksgiving and open early for Black Friday at a more traditional 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. or 9 a.m.

Perhaps the time shifts split shoppers, or maybe it was just the weather.

Early Black Friday, or Thanksgiving night crowds did not appear as massive as last year in the Brainerd-Baxter area when lines wrapped around buildings, parking lots were overflowing and pre-dawn traffic resembled rush hour volumes.

In 2011, shoppers at Target were still marching in from the waiting line as those who already had made it through the checkout line were coming out with full carts. The mild temperature and dry pavement of 2011 was a memory Friday as shoppers faced icy roads, accumulating snow and a bitter wind.

Thursday’s high temperature of 52 arrived just after midnight, following on the heels of a string of unseasonably mild days. Wednesday the high of 59 was one degree shy of the record high set in 1990. The normal temperature for this time of year is in the mid 30s.

Sunshine and mild air combined for highs well above normal early Thursday. Brainerd had 46 degrees about 10 a.m. but the thermometer dropped five degrees in the next hour for the start of a rapid descent. A light rain turned to freezing fog and then light snow. By 10 p.m., the temperature had plummeted 30 degrees from the day’s high. The northwest wind, gusting to 30 mph, created a chill making it feel like 7 degrees.

Shoppers waited in running vehicles outside stores before joining the line or running inside at the opening hour. Target relented and opened about 10 minutes early from its slated 9 p.m. time. Inside the checkout lines were moving quickly with numerous carts negotiating the hair-pin turns loaded with 32-inch, 40-inch and 50-inch TVs.

At Walmart, shoppers seemingly in unison made a dash for the store’s front door about 10 minutes before 8 p.m. slipping and sliding as they raced for the entrance.

Others who were camped in line for hours, like those at Best Buy, wrapped themselves in blankets and huddled in lawn chairs. Teenagers Nick Reed and David Saxum, both from Baxter, Ryan Frank, from Brainerd, wrapped their hands around 24-ounce cups of hot chocolate. They were first-timers at Black Friday but were drawn out into the cold by savings on XBox360 and PlayStation3. They joined the line at 6:30 p.m. and were near the front of the line. The Baxter man next to them was there at 11 a.m. Thursday in search of a new TV. It was his second year.

The crowd, he said, wasn’t as big as last year, but he thought the weather played a part in the outcome.

Reed, Saxum and Frank said they’d be willing to wait in line again next year — if the deal was good enough. This year, they said the attraction was a discount of about $100. The teenagers were mainly shopping for themselves during this trip, but planned to spend more money this year on presents. Several older shoppers said they’d be spending about the same as last year.

Anita Volkmuth, Brainerd, was another first-timer. She was shopping for a TV for her husband. It was her first time waiting in the line but Volkmuth said she was there to save money.

Robert Hempel of Chaska traded off with his wife to allow for warming spells while waiting for a midnight opening. They’d been in line since 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The draw was a 40-inch TV for $180.

“I’ve been wanting a TV for years now and just couldn’t afford it,” Hempel said. While he’s stood in line for a PlayStation launch before, Hempel said this was his first Black Friday.

But the wait, even in the bitter cold that came as a shock to some, was worth it, he said.

“It’s been hard the last five years,” Hempel said of the economy. “I think that’s why most of us are here — to save money.

“We don’t spend a lot on Christmas gifts. We’ll spend a little more on the family this year.”

But Hempel said they do keep spending down and avoid the January hangover of having those holiday shopping bills come due.

Retailers weren’t the only ones up early Friday as area restaurants and fast food chains opened in wee hours to serve sleep-starved shoppers. And the Prairie Bay food truck was offering hot meals in the parking lot next to Best Buy.

At Menards, items expected to be a draw included kayaks, TVs and tablet computers and a gun cabinet.

“There will be some really nice values for folks to get in the holiday spirit,” said Joe Kadolph, Menards store manager.

In his 29 years with Menards and nine years as the Baxter store manager, Kadolph witnessed a number of Black Fridays. As the hour drew closer to open the doors, an excited buzz began inside as staff members — about 200 of them on duty for the day — made last minute preparations.

“We do enjoy it,” Kadolph said of the day. He likened it to the concerted effort made to host a party or family event. “Everybody is excited to get this going. It’s just a fun event.”

No matter the weather, Kadolph said it was business as usual. The store was full of inventory and staff members were on hand and ready to help. Shoppers grew in numbers waiting outside until the appointed hour and then rushed through the doors. In a matter of minutes a massive line of carts vanished as shoppers flowed through the entrance with some heading to the Christmas lights and trees in the store’s “Enchanted Forest” display area.

Even with the rough roads, Kadolph said it was business as usual for staff. Black Friday, he said, is an opportunity for the store to cater to regulars and make a first impression on those drawn in for the deals from toys to TVs.

“It’s different every year,” Kadolph said. “ We just make sure we are good and ready.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852
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