- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

Retailers ushered in the holiday season yesterday with deep discounts designed to put consumers in the shopping spirit after a year of tepid sales.
The gimmicks appeared to work. By late afternoon, merchants were reporting strong sales, especially for perennials such as toys, electronics and clothing.
"We're off to a really good start," said Ted Priest, general manager at Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery, the Bethesda shopping center formerly known as Montgomery Mall.
More than 70,000 customers were expected to visit the mall yesterday, or about 20,000 more than a typical weekday, Mr. Priest said. Shoppers lined up before dawn at the mall's KayBee store, which opened at 5 a.m. for a three-day sale on firefighter and police officer action figures, a special Barbie doll dressed as Rapunzel, and other toys.
Eleven percent of Americans were expected to shop or browse at stores, malls or on the Internet for gifts yesterday, according to the International Mass Retail Association, a trade group for "big box" retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Linens & Things.
Ten percent of Americans plan to start their holiday shopping this weekend, while 6 percent will finish their shopping, according to the 2002 American Express Retail Index on holiday spending.
Consumers will spend an average of $649 on gifts this season, according to the National Retail Federation.
The day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday" because merchants once swam all year in a sea of red ink until holiday shoppers put them back in the black. Despite popular belief, Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year; the Saturday before Christmas is.
"You wouldn't know that today," Mr. Priest said. Ninety-eight percent of all parking spaces at the mall were full at 3 p.m. yesterday, he said.
The Mall in Columbia expected to receive 90,000 customers yesterday, while Tysons Corner Center expected to handle 80,000, spokesmen for the malls said.
They said many customers lined up early for special sales at department stores such as the Hecht Co., J.C. Penney Co. and Sears, which opened at 6 a.m. for a five-hour sale on clothing, shoes, luggage, cosmetics, jewelry and tools.
"We had three department stores that opened at 6 and two that opened at 7. That definitely got people in here early. The response was tremendous," said Ferris Kaplan, marketing director at Fair Oaks Shopping Center in Fairfax.
Mall-based department stores have started to offer early-bird sales, traditionally a ploy used by stand-alone retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
The department stores "know which sector is hurting them, and that's the discount department stores," said Edie Clark, spokeswoman for the International Mass Retail Association.
The big boxers weren't ceding ground, though. At Wal-Marts throughout the Washington area, customers lined up at the crack of dawn to buy 27-inch color televisions for $148.62 and a combination DVD and VCR for $98.87.
New Jersey police were needed to control thousands of bargain-hunters looking to buy the TV sets and DVD players at Wal-Mart stores in Linden and Piscataway, N.J.
Managers at some of the stores said customers snapped the merchandise up well before the six-hour sale was scheduled to end, at 11 a.m.
CompUSA, a computer chain, offered a five-hour sale on an Intel computer for $499.99 and a digital camera for $99.99.
Kmart offered 70 percent off jewelry.


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