Joanne and Woody Graham strolled out of the Target store in Amsterdam on Friday during a day of shopping that wasn’t as bad as they’d expected.
The couple said they usually don’t go shopping on the busy day known as “Black Friday.”
Despite stories about long lines and overcrowded parking lots, the couple were having a good time looking for gifts. They bought each other sweatshirts and didn’t wait in line very long.
“It’s not too bad in this area,” Joanne Graham said.
They said they lucked out at Target — the lines were “around the corner” at the nearby Kohl’s when they arrived.
Consumers and merchants were making the most of the busy shopping day, with merchants offering major discounts on merchandise, giving shoppers a chance to get nice gifts for loved ones.
Though some retailers faced criticism for opening on Thanksgiving Day, sales and bargains that began a week ago and continue this weekend appeared to thin the crowds a bit and make shopping less hectic.
Despite a steady stream of traffic in and out of the shopping center in the town of Amsterdam, there were parking spaces available in the middle of the day.
The National Retail Federation on Friday announced that retailers are expecting a boost in holiday shopping this year that could yield $602 billion in revenue — a 3.9 percent increase over 2012.
“By all appearances and according to CEOs I’ve spoken with across the retail spectrum, it looks like the early opening of stores on Thanksgiving and the traditional start of holiday shopping on Black Friday is breaking new records, including what companies are seeing through their digital channels,” National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said in a news release.
“The key takeaway at this point is that the real winners are in fact the consumers, who are recognizing more savings through competitive pricing and great promotions being offered in every category,” he said.
The Alpine Sport Shop on Clinton Street in Saratoga Springs didn’t get crowded early Friday. It started a “snow festival” sale Nov. 21 with 15 percent discounts on outdoor clothing and bargains on last season’s snowboarding gear.
“I would say it is very comfortable,” said Julia Lee, an associate at the store.
People took advantage of last week’s sale, she said, picking up clothing, equipment and “a little bit of everything” for themselves, family members and others.
Lee perceived a bit of excitement among shoppers in the store, which is frequented by those who like to ski and snowboard.
“It’s kind of like every winter is the beginning of a new relationship. We’re hoping for a lot of snow and that it’ll be a good winter,” she said.
Alpin Haus president Andy Heck said he wouldn’t consider opening on Thanksgiving Day. He said it’s “kind of crazy” to give up part of the special day.
But sales went into high gear Friday.
“For us, it starts today. It’s been a good. Early start for sure,” he said Friday morning.
Like others in the business of marketing wintertime goods such as skis and snowboards, the fact that the nation’s biggest holidays come around wintertime is a boon to Alpin Haus, Heck said.
“We’re fortunate because of the kind of business we’re in. The weather’s cold, there’s snow on the ground, it feels like Christmas season shopping,” he said.
“Much of what we sell is for people getting gifts, whether it’s parents getting something for their kids to put under the Christmas tree, grandparents come in to get their grandkids something. Really, it’s a great time of year,” Heck said.
Some have turned the day after Thanksgiving into a family event, like one group that takes a limousine from store to store in the Capital Region.
It’s not a common mode of travel on a busy shopping day, but a limousine enables shoppers to avoid the difficult parts of the day, said Rick Purcell, general manager at Watervliet-based Today’s Limo.
“I think the advantage to that is the driver can put the bags in the back of the car and drive them to different shopping centers. People like to let the driver drive and reminisce about Thanksgiving and things like that,” Purcell said.
The limousine service with a fleet of 30 cars — including a big Hummer limo — has been busy catering to weddings and other events as well, and also has gift certificates available, Purcell said.
Not everybody headed to the big cities to find the right gifts Friday. Manager Jessica Loden-Kirby said there was a steady flow of customers into the Apple Barrel in Schoharie, which features many handmade and locally made goods.
“For every couple of people that are at the mall, there’s a lot of people that are very much anti that. We are very, very busy,” Loden-Kirby said.
Christmas decorations appeared to be favorites there Friday.
“People are in the mood to decorate for the season,” she said.
Many gifts available were made locally by hand, Loden-Kirby said, including holiday wreaths and kissing balls.
“Those have been flying out of here. We’re going to have to get another order,” she said.
Even local, small businesses such as Apple Barrel cut prices. It’s part of the “nature of Black Friday,” Loden-Kirby said.
“But we don’t have $98, 32-inch TVs or anything. We would rather have good service, smiling, happy people to help you than have massive discounts,” Loden-Kirby said.
That atmosphere, she said, seemed to be welcomed.
“Everybody’s in a really, really happy mood. And they’re not going to get elbowed on the way to the checkout counters.”
Those who missed out on the Black Friday fun shouldn’t fret: The business community has succeeded in spreading out the bargains.
Special events continue with today’s “Small Business Saturday,” promoting the little retailers and, to start off next week, there’s “Cyber Monday” to cater to shoppers looking to avoid traffic and elbows by making their purchases on the Internet.
As part of Small Business Saturday, the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District is encouraging shoppers to check out bargains in Schenectady that include live pet fish.
With the purchase of one fish at regular price, the Union Aquarium will give customers a second fish for only a penny.
And Phillips Hardware is handing out a free lawn and leaf bag and giving buyers a 25 percent discount on what they can stuff into it.