Retail stores in Maryville that opened early on Black Friday attracted a steady stream of customers and reported solid sales to start off the traditional holiday shopping season. But the real action was on Thanksgiving night.
At the Walmart Supercenter, which held a series of discount promotions Thursday night and early Friday, the large parking lot was packed when the initial sale began at 8 p.m.
Thousands of shoppers thronged the aisles snatching up such items as flat-screen TVs, video game consoles, home furnishings, clothing and toys.
Kayla Young, Pickering, and her mother, Kristie Young of Hopkins, walked smiling into the Walmart parking lot about 8:30 p.m. after their "first round" of shopping, during which they bought a Gourmet Prep & Serve toy kitchen. The two women said they arrived at the big-box store around 6 p.m. and stood in line for nearly 90 minutes before making their purchases.
"We had to fight for it," said Kristie Young, describing the pushing and shoving among customers inside the crowded store.
Undeterred, however, both mother and daughter appeared in excellent spirits, and said they were heading back to Walmart for the second sale of the night, which began at 10 p.m. The store's third Black Friday promotion — the one that actually took place on Black Friday — began at 5 a.m. An hour later, the parking lot was two-thirds empty.
Sears, Maryville's only other big-ticket, non-food retailer open on Thanksgiving, also experienced a hectic sales night after opening its doors at 8 p.m. and closing at midnight.
Owner/manager Ryan Gessert said people were waiting outside when the store opened, and that a line of 30 or so shoppers remained queued up in front of the cash register island for the next four hours.
"They're buying everything," he said, "appliances, tools, television sets. We're over last year. I was pleasantly surprised."
Gessert said Sears' decision to open on Thanksgiving for the first time was tied directly to similar moves by Walmart and Target in 2011.
"You have to be competitive," he said. "In hindsight, the guys from corporate got it right. They knew when we had to open. Basically, our Friday moved to Thursday night."
Walmart and Sears are within walking distance of each other, and Gessert said many couples shopped separately, with wives and girlfriends heading for Walmart, and men going to Sears, which specializes in tools and major appliances.
When Sears opened at 6 o'clock on Friday morning, only handful of customers trickled into the store, but Gessert wasn't complaining, having done "as much business in four hours on Thursday than in 14 hours" on Black Friday last year.
"We did a half-month's business in a day," he said.
Elsewhere in Maryville early Friday, business was brisk and aisles were busy, but not necessarily packed.
Page 2 of 2 - At JC Penney, there were people waiting outside for the doors to open at 6 a.m., and a heavy flow of customers moved through the store for much of the morning. Employee Debra Easterla said business appeared to be up a little from last year, and that sales of boots, winter clothing and discounted counter-top appliances were especially strong.
In addition to its one-day discounts and a website-based giveaway, the store also deployed a couple salespeople with iPods set up to swipe debit and credit cards, a move calculated to cut down on the number of customers who had to wait in line at the cash register.
A couple of doors down from Penney's, Hibbett Sports manager Samantha Raasch and her staff were putting up Christmas decorations in a nearly empty store as the stars winked out above a clear, cold dawn.
Unlike some other retail operations in town, Raasch said, Hibbett began its Thanksgiving sale early last week and kept the promotion running through Sunday. While expecting strong Black Friday sales later in the day, she explained that the store has historically experienced its biggest holiday profits in December.
"In Maryville (on Thursday and early Friday), most people just go to Walmart and then do their own thing," Raasch said, adding that her store picks up considerable holiday weekend business from people driving back into town on Business 71 after shopping trips and family visits to St. Joseph and Kansas City.