Ohio Valley Retailers See Green on Black Friday
Bargain hunters from near and far came out in full force for a Black Friday shopping blitz early Friday morning at The Highlands and the Ohio Valley Mall, where the holiday hustle and bustle showed promise of a return to normalcy after last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have hit a reset button on the Black Friday shopping routine, which in recent years began to get earlier and earlier to the point that many stores were open on Thanksgiving in an attempt to kick off sales blowouts ahead of the competition. This year, most retail stores remained closed on Thursday to give employees time off to spend with their families, and many customers seemed to appreciate the return to the traditional schedule of having the holiday free — followed by an early bird shopping frenzy on Friday.
At The Highlands, many stores opened as early as 5 a.m. with doorbuster specials. Hardcore shoppers braved the cold and were lined up before dawn outside of Cabela’s, Walmart, JCPenney and other retail destinations.
While online shopping obviously saw a big boost last year during the height of social distancing in the wake of the pandemic, the 2021 Black Friday crowd seemed to embrace the face-to-face, in-person experience that only brick and mortar stores can offer.
“I like to see the item I’m buying — especially clothes,” said Leah Nau of Wheeling, who hit a number of different retail outlets in search of bargains Friday morning at The Highlands. “I want to hold it in my hand and really know that it’s something that the person I’m buying it for would like.”
Many shoppers and store employees agreed that it takes a special breed of person to endure the rigors and challenges that come with diving head first into Black Friday. Extreme dedication and a lot of patience seem to be prerequisites, along with an unwavering holiday spirit that cannot be broken by sometimes intense crowds and long lines.
“I don’t mind the crowds at all,” Nau said. “It’s actually pretty entertaining to me.”
If the fun of participating in Black Friday craziness doesn’t bring out certain shoppers, the potential for deep savings often does.
“We’re saving a lot of money, so we don’t mind waiting in line,” said Zac Rhoades, who was out and about Friday morning with his girlfriend, Ashlee Irwin, taking advantage of doorbuster bargains. “We just live about three miles away, so why not?”
“We sort of just winged it this year,” Irwin said, noting that they had no specific items in mind but just came across some unbeatable specials on clothes while shopping at The Highlands.
Stores like Cabela’s are retail destinations year-round, and combine that with the holiday destinations around Wheeling and the Ohio Valley, it was no surprise to see license plates from out-of-state vehicles throughout the packed parking lots on Black Friday.
“It’s a tradition for us — we come every year,” said Ellen Krouse, who traveled 2½ hours from Bedford, Pa., with her family on a visit to the Wheeling area for the holiday kick-off. “We come to see the lights at Oglebay, and of course we come here, too — there are some really good deals!”
National concerns like inflation, the supply chain crisis and workforce shortages showed no signs of impacting Friday’s holiday shopping extravaganza. In fact, cold weather with a few snowflakes flying complimented the sounds of Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringers outside the stores and the busy atmosphere.
Shoppers agreed there was little doubt that the holiday season has arrived, and from the looks of the crowds at the big box retailers at The Highlands, Black Friday may just push their bottom lines into the black. Many Black Friday specials continue all weekend long, and most locally owned retailers are ready to welcome crowds today for Small Business Saturday.
In St. Clairsville, a line began to form outside the Ohio Valley Mall before 3 a.m. in anticipation of its opening at 6 a.m., according to Candi Noble-Greathouse, marketing director of the mall.
“I did hear that some people were in their cars at midnight waiting. … The line went smoothly; we had over 250 people in line for the bags by 6 a.m.,” she said Friday morning. “Everybody is taking advantage of the doorbusters that they’ve been looking forward to. We have many shoppers out here just for fun, some that didn’t come with a plan and they’re excited that we have something to do for the holidays.”
Although Noble-Greathouse was unsure just how many people had come through the doors by Friday morning, she noted it was a busier day than last year. She said by 10 a.m. it would be “bustling.”
“This is a time for people to come out and have some fun. It is the official kick-off to the holiday season so they are here for some bargains also,” she said.
Many people in line were looking to purchase Christmas trees at Boscov’s, electronics and clothing for gifts, she said.
The first 250 people in line outside the mall’s front entrance received a “swag bag” filled with goodies, gift cards and coupons. The first 200 bags also included a chocolate bar that featured mall coupons ranging from $10 up to a grand prize of $500. Zachary Daughtery and fiance, Hannah Bever, of Beallsville were the lucky winners of the $500 giftcard which they used to purchase some Christmas gifts for their daughter and family.
Friday was the first time the couple had attended a Black Friday shopping event. They got to the mall just before 4 a.m. and ended up being one of the first 20 people in line, which is how they snagged a swag bag with the grand prize. Daughtery said they weren’t in the market for anything in particular, but were enticed to come to the mall because of the swag bags. He said they plan to return next year for the event.
For some Black Friday shopping is a tradition that they continue each year after Thanksgiving in hopes of finding deals for the holidays. That is the case for Jacob Klettner of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, formerly of Wheeling, who was home for the holidays. Although he didn’t win big, he was one of the first 250 shoppers to receive a swag bag which encouraged him to spend his morning at the mall. He said he arrived at the mall around 5:30 a.m. and was close to the end of those receiving the bag.
Klettner said he wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but mostly came to browse stores like Boscov’s and Hallmark for deals.
Lydia Ginn of Caldwell and her friends, Hailey Rossiter and Nicole Wickham, got to the mall a little later after it opened. Ginn said they started their morning at around 4 a.m. at The Highlands before making their way to the mall. She said they were looking for deals on Christmas gifts for their children.
Adron Miller of Wheeling and his aunt, Miranda Blackburn of St. Clairsville, decided to do some holiday shopping last minute. Miller said he had never experienced Black Friday shopping before and wanted to see what it was like. He and Blackburn ended up outside the mall around 5 a.m., both received a swag bag and were treated to a $10 gift card.
“I used mine to buy myself a few novelty items,” he said.
Blackburn said by the time they got to the mall, the line stretched from the front entrance past the former Macy’s. She said they mostly came for entertainment.
In addition to the swag bags and store discounts, shoppers were treated to musical entertainment by DJ Daner, free cookies and pretzels.
The mall is offering another deal through Dec. 19 — customers who spend $300 at any mall retailer will qualify for a free gift that can be redeemed at the customer service desk. Shoppers must show their receipts to collect the gift. Noble-Greathouse said customers will have the choice of a free giving plate or a holiday cookbook.