monopoly_money.jpgThe Thanksgiving holiday has become synonymous with the start of shopping season with massive sales at big-box stores and local businesses alike.

Bay Area retailers are gearing up for “Black Friday,” a day of shopping deals the day after Thanksgiving, and other consumer traditions during the following days.

Noticeably, this year Black Friday is creeping into Thanksgiving Day, with stores across the region opening as early as 8 p.m. Thursday night.

“Black Friday is moving earlier and earlier,” according to Dale Achabal, the executive director at the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University.

He said sales are becoming more elaborate and the day is something of a social event. He described the day as a way for many families to get together and “it really kicks off the holidays.”

The door-buster sales and midnight openings might seem like gimmicks to get shoppers into stores, however Achabal said Black Friday presents real savings and value–especially on big-ticket items such as TVs, laptops and other electronic items.

“Many times there are special buys that deliver phenomenal value to consumers,” he said.

Not to be left out, online retailers such as created “Cyber Monday” several years ago for Internet sales the Monday following Black Friday, and has maintained its popularity as a way for those online to have big promotions following the brick-and-mortar retailers, Achabal said.

All over the Bay Area, retailers are prepping their stores for the influx of shoppers for Black Friday.

At the Westfield Oakridge Mall in San Jose, general manager JB Schutte said Sears is opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting the entire mall to open its doors earlier than in past years.

“We expect big crowds,” Schutte said. “It’s going to be a wild holiday.”

The general manager said the mall will provide free Luna bars to keep shoppers energized in the wee hours of the morning before many stores close for a brief break between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday morning.

He said the days, complete with shopping chaos, full parking lots, packed movie theaters and crowded food courts “makes it fly by” despite the extended hours at the San Jose mall.

Last year about 5,000 shoppers waited outside the doors at Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord for the midnight Black Friday opening, according to the mall’s marketing director Kim Trupiano. This year more stores will be opening at midnight.

Security and parking issues are top concerns during the shopping frenzy, Trupiano said.
“We’ll have our entire security force mobile that day,” she said.

“We’ll have all hands on deck.”

The food court also gets inundated with crowds, especially at spots that serve coffee and snacks.

She said families tend to come later in the morning, which is when Santa Claus will be available to greet youngsters.

“There’s a strategy to it,” Trupiano said. “(Shoppers) are very strategic in how they approach Black Friday shopping.”

The Great Mall in Milpitas will be open for 24 hours starting at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Stores including Toys “R” Us and megastore Walmart, with locations throughout the Bay Area, will be opening Thursday evening ahead of Black Friday openings at other retailers that are scheduled anywhere from midnight to 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.

In the midst of the shopping frenzy, Walmart workers are planning to strike Thursday and on Black Friday as part of a nationwide demonstration against the company that union-backed organizers say violates workers’ rights.

In the Bay Area, on Thursday evening workers will walk out at the San Leandro location, while on Friday continued demonstrations will be held at that location along with the Fairfield, Richmond and San Jose stores.

On Saturday, the small business community throughout the Bay Area has organized with the three-year-old tradition of “Small Business Saturday,” held the day after Black Friday to support Main Street stores.

Steve Bangs, the spokesman for San Francisco District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA, said the designated day for local shopping, started by American Express in 2010, prompts consumers to think about what their money is supporting.

“SBA is encouraging people and small businesses to participate,” Bangs said.

He suggested shoppers looking for purchases turn to small businesses where they can find items that don’t necessarily come with an owner’s manual, such as handcrafted gifts, floral arrangements, restaurant gift cards, food baskets and other more personalized items.

“Don’t forget your local small business,” Bangs said.

In 2011, American Express counted more than 100 million shoppers headed to small businesses across the U.S., Bangs said.

In San Francisco, the city has proclaimed Saturday as “Small Business Saturday” and is encouraging local elected officials to make it to local neighborhood commercial areas to shop for holiday gifts, according to Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the city’s Office of Small Business.

She said with increased awareness to shop local, “last year we did see an uptick in business in our neighborhoods.”

That increase is expected again this weekend, with businesses in the Castro, Noe Valley, Valencia Street corridor and other shopping districts “ready and prepared for an increase,” Regina Dick-Endrizzi said.

Those looking for the ultimate in saving will participate in “Buy Nothing Day” this Friday, a national stand against conspicuous consumption that has grown in popularity over the past decade.

The website for the anti-event, which has no centralized organization, challenges a perceived consumer-driven society to step back on the biggest shopping day of the year.
“Can you really buy absolutely nothing for just one day?”

The website describes the day as “your special day to unshop, unspend and unwind. Relax and do nothing for the economy and for yourself–at least for a single day.”

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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