ALPENA - With some stores opening earlier than ever, Alpena's retailers were reporting lots of shoppers and solid sales on Black Friday.
The annual shopping frenzy started early, with a few local retailers kicking off Thursday evening. Store owners and managers around Alpena were busy, even in smaller businesses where special deals didn't start until Friday. A steady flow of customers came through, taking advantage of deals that changed by the hour to buy holiday gifts or just something for themselves. And many of them seemed to be shopping locally.
At JCPenney in the Alpena Mall, Manager Todd Shuler said the store's special sales kicked off at 8 p.m. Thursday, and continued for 25 hours. While some voiced their unhappiness about the sale starting during Thanksgiving, others were grateful for the opportunity.
"A lot of folks were happy about Thursday shopping, as many as who weren't," he said. "Parents could bring out the kids to try on coats and get what fits ... A lot of families were in here last night, and they appreciated it. Parents don't like getting their kids up at 4 a.m. to try stuff on."
This year is the first that JCPenney stayed open for so long on Black Friday, Shuler said. He had to hire extra help to keep the store staffed. With eight hours left to go, he said it seemed to be a success. Customer traffic was steady, although the big rush happened Thursday night.
"This isn't our normal Black Friday traffic, but we didn't lose anything because of such a strong kickoff last night," he said.
Shopping at Peebles also started on Thursday, Store Manager Linda Wcisel said. The clothing retailer opened at 6 p.m. until 1 a.m., reopening again at 6 a.m. Friday. She was overwhelmed to see so many shoppers choosing to buy in Alpena. The store contributes to local charities each year, and Wcisel said she believes people are showing their appreciation.
"It's been very steady all day," she said. "It's wonderful to see it like this, it really is. Alpena needs this."
Big retailers weren't the only ones to offer deals, with several downtown boutiques holding sales of their own. Marketplace of Alpena and How Cute is That had special sales and opened an hour early, owner Missi LeFave said. She had customers right away, and at 10:30 a.m. hoped she would have more throughout the day.
Local stores like LeFave's have an advantage over bigger stores, she said, because her employees can offer more personalized customer service. Her free gift wrapping is popular as well.
"My girls are trained to help people shop, to get things checked off their list and find the right gift for the right person," she said. "Offering exceptional customer service, that's what we can do better than the 'big boxes.'"
LeFave's sales will continue today, on a day being marketed as Small Business Saturday, she said. She praised credit card company American Express for promoting the idea.
Kelly Bruning also will continue her sales at Soaps and Such on Saturday, she said. She planned a special ornament-making class before and after the holiday parade on Friday. While her store was quiet early that day, she anticipated more shoppers after the big early rush.
"We're doing pretty good with our traditional opening at 10 a.m.," she said. "Our motto is, 'No hustle, no bustle.'"
In keeping with the theme, Bruning said she has a bistro table set up by her counter in back, where customers can relax and have a free hot drink. She agreed that small businesses can be more friendly to those looking for post-Thanksgiving deals. Small businesses also have a positive financial impact on the community.
"I employ three people," she said. "If people don't shop downtown merchants, which is us, we won't be able to employ your friends and neighbors, or sons and daughters."