ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Let the madness begin.
They say there's no rest for the wicked. Apparently, there's no rest for the furtively thrifty, either.
Today's Black Friday shopping blitz broke the mold from previous years, as many retail stores held early doorbuster sales not just early this morning, but at different times throughout the night, as well.
DIE-HARD shoppers and professional bargain hunters blitzed Wal-Mart in the Ohio Valley Plaza in St. Clairsville early this morning, seeking an array of featured doorbuster specials for Black Friday.
And the die-hard shoppers came out seeking the many special deals and deep savings on items for holiday gifts.
Thousands of Ohio Valley residents were looking for those bargains as they set their alarms early today or simply stayed awake all night to take advantage of all the special sales at the Ohio Valley Mall and Ohio Valley Plaza. Last night and during the early hours this morning, umbrellas and rain gear were standard gear among those standing in lines in front of stores waiting for them to open.
Thanksgiving Day's Times Leader was filled with store circulars to help shoppers prepare their lists for Black Friday, the official kick-off to the holiday shopping season.
This rainy weather did not dampen the spirits of shoppers who were lined up outside stores at the Ohio Valley Mall as early as 2 a.m. Merchants were bracing for what is usually the biggest shopping day of the year.
George Diab, mall manager, said mall stores were offering all kinds of specials.
"Traditionally, this is our biggest shopping day of the year," he said. "We have expanded our shopping hours and we are looking forward to a banner holiday shopping season. "
Many diehard shoppers went without sleep overnight for some major Black Friday savings.
Wal-Mart in the Ohio Valley Plaza was open all day on Thanksgiving, with doorbuster sales taking place at midnight and 5 a.m. Many featured sale items were set out and wrapped in plastic until the sale time hit, the wrapping was cut and the massive crowds grabbed for items in a shopping frenzy.
The doorbuster toy sale at Wal-Mart went off like a powder keg, and the store remained packed with customers all night through to the 5 a.m. doorbuster, when featured electronic items went on sale. Shoppers seeking hot items like 32-inch HDTVs for a mind-boggling $198 were given tickets from helpful employees working the red-eye. Those with tickets were given the merchandise at sale time, and many items like the TVs sold out almost immediately. Many rabid shoppers chased stock personnel down the aisles like fans chasing rock stars.
Some stores kicked off the big day earlier than ever, and some restaurants even remained open on Thanksgiving and overnight, offering specials like the "Shopper's Buffet."
Toys 'R Us held its doorbuster sale last night, opening its doors to a line of customers standing out in the rain at 10 p.m.
An extremely long line formed at the door of the toy store, curved around the west side of the building and made its way into the back lot before winding back towards the front of the store. Despite the inclement weather, shoppers seemed to have positive outlooks as they chatted amongst themselves, peering out from under umbrellas and hoodies.
"I've been in line nearly an hour," said one man who was shopping with his wife. "We are soaked clear through but we have a list and are ready to get in there and see how much damage we can do!"
Bethesda resident Alice Miner said she, along with her sister and mother, had their plan of attack planned out well in advance.
"We have been here since 6 p.m. waiting to get in," she said. "We look through the advertising fliers from the paper and get our plan of attack ready. We do it every year. It's fun. We eat our Thanksgiving meal early so we have time to get out here and shop!"
"This year went much smoother," Shirley Edgell of Triadelphia, Miner's mother said after having a unpleasant experience last year. "They were better prepared and were letting only so many people in at time. They also had a police officer on hand to keep the rowdier shoppers under control."
"Oh, yes, much better this year," daughter Jessica Oliver added. "We got in the store, got what we wanted, made it through the checkout and now we are heading out to find more bargains. We still have a little room in the car so we are going to keep shopping!"
Toys 'R Us was very popular place for most Black Friday enthusiasts to start their shopping, not only because it opened hours before most other stores, but because of the merchandise available there.
"We are here because of the great deals on things our kids want," said St. Clairsville resident Joanne Jenkins. "They looked through the advertisement and picked out gifts they would like to get for Christmas. Now it's up to me to get in there and find them!"
One of the largest crowds was gathered outside the main entrance to the mall, waiting for the early doorbuster opening to arrive. The early-birds were treated to free refreshments from Thoburn United Methodist Church, which has served hot beverages to those waiting in line outside in the elements for two years in a row.
"We want to get people off on the right track for the Christmas season," said Nora Holtsclaw, whose team from Thoburn helped promote the reason for the season. "We're sharing Jesus' love, giving everyone a little something to think about, and helping to warm them up a little bit. It's been a little cold and windy, but it could be colder."
First in line at the mall's main entrance was Tracey Cline of Porters Falls, W.V., who arrived there at 2 a.m. She was coatless in the cold because she said her coat got soaked in the rain when she arrived to wait outside of Toys 'R Us at 8 p.m. Yet, she stood her ground in good spirit, leading sing-alongs with fellow shoppers know only by number designated by their prime positions in line.
"I'm a very competitive shopper," she joked. "We don't need sleep, and the cold isn't that bad. We bought an electric blanket at Wal-Mart earlier, but there's nowhere to plug it in out here."
The first 400 in line got a free goody bag filled with great savings and promotional items for ages 12 and older, and one lucky shopper won a $100 Ohio Valley Mall gift card.
"This is my seventh year in a row," said Amber Benson of Barnesville, who arrived in line at the mall just after 5 a.m. "It's turning into kind of a tradition. I got a little bit of sleep last night. They've got some good deals today, and I'm definitely going to try to get most of my shopping done while I'm out here."
A crowd of shoppers braved the rain and wind as they waited in line at Kmart. Among them was Doty Toohey of Barnesville. She said she was going to buy a Playstation 3. She was accompanied by her mother, Margaret Starr, also of Barnesville who planned to buy an Xbox 360. A sister-in-law, Kassey Daugherty of Malaga, was going to purchase tools.
A throng of shoppers were in the Elder Beerman Store, which opened at 4 a.m. like many of the other department stores. Among the shoppers were husband and wife Chris and Aleysa Hendershot of Barnesville. They already had two shopping bags loaded with items by 5 a.m. Seth Cline of Columbus and Aleysa's sister, Heather Hanshaw of Marion, Ohio, had their hands loaded with packages as they navigated the busy check-out lines.
Macy's store was also offering Black Friday specials, and taking advantage of them was Melissa Barton of Shadyside. Amanda Timko of Colerain, said she hoped to get a lot of shopping accomplished. Rita Szajewski of Dearborn, Mich., was visiting relatives in Bridgeport, and decided to do some shopping before heading for home.
"I have a list, and I think I will put a dent in it," she said.
Charla Macy of Bethesda has been shopping on Black Friday for many years. She said she used to come just to watch the crowds. "Now that I have two grandchildren, I am a shopper. It is a lot of fun and I enjoy it."
Some other Black Friday regulars were also ready to make a dent in their shopping lists.
"This is getting to be a habit," said Cindy McGee of Barnesville. "We enjoy the crowds and the excitement." She was accompanied by sister Peggy McGee, niece Laura Carpenter and granddaughter Astin Skinner.
Mother and daughters, Kim Shumaker with Ashley Shumaker and Jaime Stephen of Barnesville, and a cousin Karen Clouse, had their shopping lists ready and were on their way to Kmart and then to Wal-Mart during the early morning hours. "It is going to be a fun day for all of us," Stephen said.
Stores on the perimeter of the Ohio Valley Mall also were busy this morning. Cars jammed the lots out to Gabriel Brothers.
As the Black Friday shopping frenzy winds down today, the holiday shopping sales are expected to continue all the way to Christmas Eve, with retailers hoping to see profits during the holiday season help them finish the year well in the black.
(Times Leader staffers Eric Ayres, Ed Polli and Kay Sedgmer contributed to this report. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)