The Ottumwa Courier

November 24, 2012

Thousands wait in lines around Ottumwa for Black Friday deals

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — After hours and hours of planning and preparation at local stores, one mad rush rang in the holiday shopping season on Black Friday.

Quincy Place Mall Manager Staci Shettler said the midnight opening went off without a hitch.

“For the first time ever we actually had a midnight opening,” she said. “It was very, very busy, very high traffic from midnight to about 3 a.m. Then it’s been pretty steady ever since 6 a.m.”

Overall the hundreds of shoppers seemed positive and happy, Shettler said, an atypical picture of the usual crowds storming stores and shoppers fighting over sale items.

“Everybody’s been very pleased with sales,” she said. “We had no issues. It’s ran very smoothly.”

And with bigger stores like Walmart and Target opening earlier on Thanksgiving, that helped the mall in the long run, she said.

“When I got here around 11:40 [p.m. Thursday] to drive around the mall, we had people outside both Herberger’s entrances, the center court entrance,” she said. “They were really waiting at every entrance to get in.”

Menards opened its doors at 5 a.m., an hour earlier than in previous years. But shoppers braving the chilly weather outside got some holiday cheer while they waited.

Radio station KIIC out of Albia broadcasted live from 4-7 a.m. Friday, playing holiday tunes, handing out free hot chocolate and blowing fake snow over the crowd.

“We had the only snow in Ottumwa,” said Menards store manager Patrick Plaehn.

He said there were around 1,000 shoppers waiting from the entrance all the way down to the garden center by the time the doors opened, plus 100 Menard’s workers ready to help the crowds.

“I’ve been up since around 2:30 [a.m.],” Plaehn said Friday morning. “We probably spent on Wednesday 10 to 12 hours getting everything set.”

Overall, though, he said the store put in more than 150 hours sorting, separating and unpacking everything in time for the shopping holiday.

“We always try really hard to make it go as smoothly as possible,” Plaehn said.

Driving through parking lots on Friday, many of the license plates were from surrounding counties, including some from out of state.

“We waited for the crowds to die down, then we came among them,” said Marilyn Ayer, who drove up from Lancaster, Mo. with her family. “We’ve done it for the last couple of years because we get really good bargains.”

And with 11 grandchildren, Ayer said Black Friday is the best day to shop.

“I looked through the sales on my smart phone and Menards had the best deals for what I wanted,” she said. “So we’ll start here then probably head over to Kohl’s.”

By 9 a.m. Friday, the Ayers already had two carts full of items, including an infrared heater, an extremely popular item that Plaehn said had already sold out by early Friday.

“We avoid the craziness but we still have a lot of fun,” Ayer said.

Marcy Mock was the retail manager of the Ottumwa Walmart for 12 years and was also in charge of planning for the madness.

“It’s tradition to be immersed in it,” said Mock, who was out shopping with her children Friday morning.

She said price matching is the big goal for the stores. For shoppers, it’s good to have a plan ahead of time, rather than just barreling in the store and grabbing everything in sight.

“Shopping in teams also helps, as does knowing what you’re going after,” she said. “We were here at 5:30 [p.m. Thursday] for the 8 o’clock sale. There were huge lines waiting up front at the registers. Thankfully we were the first in our line.”

Walmart is open 24 hours a day, so there was no “grand entrance” of sorts to begin Black Friday. Rather, the main aisles of the store were loaded with wrapped items wrapped until 8 p.m. Thursday.

Dave Armstrong, Walmart district manager, said some stayed at the store overnight Wednesday going into Thursday, even though the Black Friday sales didn’t begin until Thursday night.

“We have all our merchandise stored on storage trailers behind the store and the day of Thanksgiving we bring it out, wrap it and put signs on it,” Armstrong said.

While he said it was difficult to put a number to how many shoppers they saw during the event, everything went well.

“We had no issues with customers,” he said. “There are always some internal issues with trying to get items here but it went well. Everyone seemed to be very cooperative.”

Electronics always seem to be the most popular items, Armstrong said, with laptops, Blu-rays, TVs and iPads flying off the shelves.

Aimee Jackson, sales manager at Vanity, said with the addition of rue21 to the mall, traffic has picked up.

“I think maybe people are coming to Ottumwa more than going to Des Moines or Iowa City,” she said.

But Jackson thinks more people are waiting until the last minute to buy gifts.

“This year, maybe one in 10 are Christmas shopping,” she said. “We had a lot of people today shopping for themselves as opposed to Christmas presents. I figured there would be gift receipts with every transaction, but we’ve probably only given one gift receipt in every five transactions.”