- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

At 3:40 in the morning, Cathy Freeman leaves her Germantown home to join the ranks of the one of every nine U.S. shoppers who starts his holiday shopping on what retailers call "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving.
Ms. Freeman, a 27-year-old single mother, has been hitting the stores well before 5 a.m. for the past five years. She has no plans to quit her tradition of doing most of her shopping on Black Friday, despite the day's decline to the sixth-biggest shopping day of the year.
"My salary has probably increased 50 percent since I started doing this when I moved" to the Washington area six years ago, Ms. Freeman says at 4:32 a.m. She is standing in line with her boyfriend, Fred Funes, and 60 other shoppers to enter the KayBee toy store when it opens at 5 a.m. at the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax.
"But I'm still a frugal shopper, even having the extra income, and I never buy something at full price," said Ms. Freeman, a technical recruiter for EIdea/Digital Harbor, an Annandale software company. "I'd feel way too guilty about it."
Black Friday earned its name because it used to be the first day of the year retailers reported a profit, moving their balance sheets out of the red and into the black.
But the highest-grossing shopping day has shifted to the Saturday before Christmas.
Still, KayBee is packed by 5:03 a.m.
"This is a bit more crowded than last year," Ms. Freeman says upon entering the store.
Ms. Freeman fills two industrial-size garbage bags with seven Easy Bake Ovens, two Draw Projector Sets and a Shrinky Dink set within 10 minutes, costing her $96.06.
She and Mr. Funes next head to the Wal-Mart at Fair Lakes Shopping Center in Fairfax to stand outside for the 6 a.m. opening.
"I have a system down pat, where I put all the ads out the night before and figure out the best places to get my stuff within the two shopping centers," Ms. Freeman says at 5:45 a.m. as she gets in line with about 120 people ahead of her.
Her mission is to snag one of the Symphonic DVD players on sale for $48 and some minichopper food-processing units at $5 each.
Ms. Freeman sends Mr. Funes, on his first Black Friday shopping trip, to the stacks of DVD players when they enter the store at 6:03 a.m. Mr. Funes picks up one of the DVD players, a top-selling item this season, which sell out 15 minutes later.
Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation, says discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Target would ring up the most revenue yesterday by offering greater discounts on electronics and apparel and longer store hours.
That has prompted more department stores such as J.C. Penney and Sears to open their doors at 6 a.m. as well.
"All retailers are offering serious discounts because consumers are going to be cautious in spending this year," Mr. Krugman says. "But most shoppers have shown they are ready to come out of their shell and plan on spending more for gifts."
Ms. Freeman says the discounts are the same as last year, but more customers were shopping.
"There are definitely some sales that made it worth people's while to be out here," she says.
More Americans are expected to shop before the last minute this year, which has a shorter-than-normal shopping season, according to Michael Baker, director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
"Hanukkah starts and shoppers have six less days to prep for Christmas," Mr. Baker said. "That smaller amount of time will push up foot traffic in stores and prompt more people to make purchases ahead of time."
In Wal-Mart, Ms. Freeman secures the last three minichoppers despite getting pushed by another shopper.
"Sometimes it can get a little aggressive and I'm definitely more competitive for items right now but I've never had any knockdown fights in the past," she says.
She grabs three Slithering Jake snake toys and a Samantha the Scooter doll before heading to the checkout, all within 20 minutes.
"The key is bypassing the crowd by going around the less-crowded sections and not getting a cart unless there's no way to carry all the items," she says. Her Wal-Mart purchases come to $144.
At Kids World next door, Ms. Freeman and Mr. Funes wait in their longest checkout line for half an hour. "I will never, ever do this again," he says, rubbing his bloodshot eyes. "I love getting a deal, but I love sleeping a whole lot more."
Ms. Freeman says she will spend $450 for holiday gifts, and Mr. Funes says his total will hit $500, both less than the national average that a study by the retail federation projects at $649. The study says retailers will rack up $209.3 billion in sales this holiday season.
The bulk of Ms. Freeman's shopping has been for her 6-year-old daughter, Briana, and for nieces and nephews. "I'll get a few other things for some adults, but kids make up my shopping list."
With no caffeine and three hours of sleep, she planned to host a slumber party for Briana's birthday last evening after her early-morning shopping spree. "I finished a little earlier than normal today [at 8 a.m.] because I had help for the first time, but I'm always too keyed up to sleep right away," she says.
Pam Danzinger, president of Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Pa., marketing-research firm, says the number of people shopping nationwide on Black Friday isn't likely to fade despite the increasing amount of online shopping, which has grown to 4 percent of holiday sales.
"This season, shoppers are showing that they want to make a personal and meaningful connection with their gifts," Mrs. Danzinger said.
"To get that, they're going to be out at stores, touching and examining items instead of just clicking at a computer screen."
Ms. Freeman says she rarely buys holiday gifts online. "I like looking at a product and knowing exactly what I'm buying, because ads can be very deceiving," she says. "I might not like what I find, but then something else in the store might catch my eye."
Chris Baker contributed to this report.

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