LIMA — It really is the most wonderful time of the year for Lima.
Not only do holidays bring family time, hanging stockings and making cookies, but they bring the gift season. And with less than one week until Black Friday, local retailers are gearing up for hoards of crowds to storm their premises Friday morning.
But this year marks a few new traditions for the day that many retailers refer to as “the best Friday of the year.” Some stores, such as Walmart, Sears and Kmart, are opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Still others are opening at midnight and a select few are holding back for the early Friday opening.
“This whole concept just really angers me. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day that we enjoy spending time with our family and giving thanks for all that we have and giving all the people who work in retail some much needed time off and to enjoy the holidays with their families too,” said Angie Shehata, a Lima resident. “And what is the point of Black Friday when you’re going to be open on Thanksgiving?”
But the holiday season keeps creeping its way closer and closer to Halloween. In fact, some stores even had decorations up before Halloween this year. Experts say the earlier start may be a simple case of supply and demand.
According to the National Retail Federation, 52.8 percent of Americans have already started their holiday shopping in 2012, up from the 51.4 percent from last year.
“In order to win over savvy shoppers this year, retailers are well-aware that their deals have to stand out, and it looks like there’s plenty of people eager to get their hands on the exclusive promotions we are already seeing,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
NRF also predicts shoppers will be spending slightly more than last year, with emphasis on clothing and clothing accessories.
David McClough, Ohio Northern University economics professor, said based on the models he’s seen, spending will be increased by about 1.5 to 2 percent this year.
“This year, I would expect a relatively strong year,” he said. “The reason I say that is No. 1, incomes are rising on the average and unemployment rates are going down. But the point is, a lot of people are now more confident that the economy is going to improve. So if people are confident, they’re more likely to spend. So we’ll see an increase, but a modest one.”
Stores setting up
Local retailers have been in the holiday spirit for weeks now. Robert Paetsch, the second assistant general manager for the Menards on Allentown Road, said store employees started hanging Christmas decorations and putting out Christmas product about a month ago, around mid-October.
“We’re trying to get everything out as soon as we can,” Paetsch said, holiday music merrily playing in the background. “As soon as we get it in, it’s on the shelves for guests to purchase. We have the general public looking for trees and Christmas decorations right now, so whatever they come in for, we should have. So that’s why we put them out so early for them. Every year, you see it getting earlier and earlier.”
Menards, which is opening at 5 a.m this year, features an entire Christmas section, filled with Christmas trees, blowup Christmas inflatables, ornaments and decorations ranging from a light-up Santa frog to a light-up nativity scene.
“It’s nuts here on Black Friday,” he said. “We open the doors and everyone goes in and just goes crazy. I would tell you that something sells better than something else, but really, it’s just everything goes. And that’s what we live for. It’s retail and it’s what we love.”
J.C. Penney store leader, Dean Daugherty, said Friday is the one day yearlong the store will be having a sale.
“We’re going to be having some really good deals on small appliances,” Daugherty said. “There will be a griddle, a coffee pot, things of that nature, for as low as $8, no rebate.”
Another thing J.C. Penney is doing for the holiday is giving away 8 million holiday buttons nationwide.
“On the back of those buttons are codes,” Daugherty said. “The customer can win anything from $5 to $10 in gift cards all the way up to a getaway vacation. The company will be handing out 100 vacations.”
The theme is carried out throughout the store, with button trees and buttons hanging from the ceiling. Daugherty said though the store isn’t opening until 6 a.m., he thinks the scattered opening times will benefit his store.
“As far as customer traffic, we’re in a unique situation where we’re kind of the center of the mall,” he said. “So I don’t know if our sales will necessarily go up or down, because anyone that comes to the mall kind of hits us anyway.”
He said they’ve increased staffing levels by about 50 percent for the holiday season and have been preparing for the day by stocking out all of their merchandise and getting employees ready for the craziness.
Another major retailer in the Lima Mall, Sears, will be opening at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Store manager, Mike Fuerst, said electronics and hardware are usually best-sellers on Black Friday.
“I’m just excited to get it started,” he said. “What I’m seeing is that every year, the shopping gets a little earlier. Typically, it used to be the last week before Christmas was the busiest. I think it comes from the fact that a lot of the better items unfortunately won’t be available closer to Christmas.”
A new store in town, Dunham’s Sports, is hitting the ground running with its new Lima location as its launching right into the holiday season. The store, which just officially opened Friday, will be opening at midnight Thursday.
“We are expecting a huge crowd,” said store manager, Brandon Clem. “The goal is for all the retailers to have different start times and the retailers can get different crowds at different times of the day. So we’re expecting a more steady crowd, instead of the sudden pound we would have had at 5 a.m.”
A Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman, Molly Philhours, said the chain used reports to see when holiday shopping was the highest, and that’s how its 8 p.m. opening time was decided.
“In talking to our customers, we know that when the circulars come out and when the leftovers are put away, millions of customers are willing to start their shopping on Thanksgiving night,” she said. “This year we’re striking a balance between being competitive and meeting customer demand.”
Kohl’s will also be opening at midnight and features deals such as 20 percent to 50 percent off select electronics, and saving 50 percent on the entire in-store stock of toys from Fisher Price, Playskool, Little Tikes, Barbie, Disney Princess, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Nerf, Tonka, Crayola, Play-Doh, Doll & Me, and Step 2.
And even though a lot of the big name stores are having dynamite sales, local small businesses are not to be forgotten. This week, there is a “small business Saturday” that’s taking place in Allen County.
One of the featured businesses is Test Kits at Home, based out of Coldwater, a supplier of various health-related test kits, such as drug and alcohol tests, DNA testing, steroid and pregnancy and ovulation tests.
Holiday shopping helps Allen County
While holiday shopping is fun for many, it also is no secret that sales taxes on goods make up a lot of the county’s budget.
“Our sales tax is about 57 percent of our entire general fund budget,” said Allen County Auditor Rhonda Eddy-Stienecker. “And already, at this point of the year, we are 4.96 percent higher than what we were last year.”
Eddy-Stienecker said the sales tax coming in from the month of December is 11 percent of the entire year, nearly double that of every other month.
“So for example from last year, we received 6.92 percent from the month of January,” she said. “If you look at every month, December is always significantly higher.”
From December alone of last year, there was about $500,000 generated in sales tax for the county.
Factors that predict spending
McClough explained how many corporate organizations are able to predict annual spending.
“The models usually take into account how much was spent the last year, the year before, but they also identify key variables that might affect whether or not there will be more or less spending.”
One of those key variables, he said is gross domestic product, GDP, or the measure of the national income.
“So when GDP rises, the assumption is that people have more income to spend,” he said. “And that’s technically true because when there’s more income, a portion of that income is spent on Christmas.”
Two other very important variables are the unemployment rate and size of the workforce, he said.
“The logic there is that when there are more unemployed, they don’t have an income, so when its rising, that hurts spending,” he said. “But recently, there’s been a lot of reports of unemployment coming down nationally and in Ohio and while that’s a nice thing to see, there’s a problem with the data because so many people have left the labor force, so that’s why we take into account actual size of the workforce as well.”
And one more unexpected variable may have been the political climate and recent election.
“So now you’ve had a presidential election and a lot of uncertainty that existed prior to that election is gone, so we’re no longer guessing what’s going to happen,” he said. “We have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen because President [Barack] Obama is probably not going to raise taxes on the middle class, so people know their taxes won’t be increasing and feel more confident in spending extra money.”
“There’s also the issue of the impending fiscal cliff,” he said. “If people think we’re going to go over the fiscal cliff, they’re not going to be spending anything at Christmastime. But if they feel more confident in the president and Congress’ ability to get something solved, they may feel better about spending a few extra dollars. So psychology is really the wild card here.”
Some local residents have expressed their concerns with Black Friday overlapping into Thanksgiving Thursday, similar to Shehata’s thoughts.
“I strongly disagree with it. Thanksgiving is about family and the employees deserve the day off,” said Leslie Cross Phillips. “Shopping on a day when you should be thankful for what you have is both hypocritical and greedy”
But others feel differently, glad that the stores’ openings are spread apart to selectively shop.
“I know a lot of people don’t like the fact that stores are opening on Thanksgiving, but honestly I have two kids and I love to shop the sales,” said Amy Hunt, a former Walmart employee. “It’s so nice to be able to go get the things at Toys R Us and maybe Walmart, but then be able to make it to the mall when they open. It’s not as hard and you get most of the things you want with them being all spread out.”
Make sure to pick up Thursday’s The Lima News to check out all the Black Friday deals.