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Merchants say brisk Black Friday is a good sign for holiday sales

By Jeff Dana | 11/28/2011

The frenzied crowds are gone and Black Friday has ended, but for retailers from Skokie to Gurnee, the excitement of the holiday shopping season is just beginning.

"Everybody's looking for a deal more than ever today," said Billy Abt, co-owner of Abt Electronics in Glenview.

Whether that quest for a deal translates to strong numbers, though, remains to be seen. Some retail representatives say they're anticipating a strong holiday shopping season. Others are just hoping their sales are on par with last year.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I think as long as you continue to be promotional" sales will be strong, Abt said.

The store's other co-owner, Jon Abt, said the number of visitors increased 15 percent over Black Friday 2010, while sales were up 10 percent. Online Abt traffic increased 27 percent, he added.

At RadioShack on Waukegan Road in Glenview, sales associates said they are anticipating fewer customers than last year, but pricier purchases.

"All I've heard this year is they're expecting our sales to be about the same as last year, but we're going to have less traffic," said sales associate Chip Rosenthal.

Many people use the day after Thanksgiving, when stores offer deep discounts to early risers, to get a jump on their holiday shopping. This year, some major retailers opened as early as 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, while others opened their doors hours before dawn on Friday.

"This has been a very happy holiday Black Friday for us," said Michelle Rice, director of marketing and business development for Gurnee Mills mall. "Definitely, people are in the holiday spirit. I have not seen one frown."

Target and Walmart, located near the mall, opened at midnight Thursday, as did Kohl's, which is attached to Gurnee Mills, Rice said.

"Kohl's had pretty strong traffic," she said. "Their parking lot was almost full."

The mall itself opened at 4 a.m. Friday, and at 6 a.m., eight of the nine parking lots were full, Rice said.

Shoppers were looking for deeper discounts than those they find on a normal day at the outlet mall, she said. For example, Last Call by Niemann Marcus, the department store's discount offshoot, was giving shoppers 40 percent off their entire purchase before 8 a.m., Rice said.

But even three weeks before Black Friday, the mall had already seen a lot of traffic — a predictor of a strong holiday shopping season, Rice said.

Electronics have been driving sales at many stores, including CostCo on Willow Road in Glenview. General Manager Kristen D'Agostino said TVs, cameras and laptops have been big sellers at the store.

"We had a nice weekend," D'Agostino said. "We beat our projections; our customer count was up."

Although large home electronics items have been popular, smaller gadgets seem to be popular for the younger crowd, she said. Parents are looking to things like tablet computers as alternatives to laptops and other items for their children.

Glenview resident Tony Asghari was one of the people looking for big-ticket electronics — but not as gifts. He tried in vain to buy a couple TVs at Best Buy in Skokie, which he said began handing out tickets for certain items at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving to customers waiting in line. When he got home, he even tried desperately to shop on Panasonic's website, but had no luck.

Costco in Glenview was his third option. Two days prior, he saw a couple 60-inch TVs selling for $1,200, and he was hoping he could get a discount the day after Thanksgiving.

"We did some construction on the house, so there is a need for two TVs," the first-time Black Friday shopper said as he waited for the wholesaler to open at 9 a.m. Friday.

Northbrook resident Kathy Weiss had already been shopping since midnight as she waited in line just before 5:30 a.m. Friday outside RadioShack in Glenview. Her quest for deals began at Edens Plaza in Wilmette and took her as far as Randhurst Village in Mount Prospect.

Weiss said she was mostly shopping for holiday gifts, but she did manage to snag some items, such as a set of pajamas, for herself.

"There was a huge rush at Carson's in Edens Plaza," she said. "Everyone was nice. I had no problems. Everyone was considerate."

She was eager to purchase a pair of Dr. Dre Beats headphones at RadioShack. They came with a $10 gift card, making the total price $143.99.

Jon Abt said that item has been popular at his store, as well, but he said to keep watching for more big-ticket items to fly off the shelves.

"What I'm hearing today (Monday) is consumer electronics were the hot ticket over the weekend, and we'll continue to see that," he said.

© Copyright 2011 Trib Local

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