by Kim Mines
CLARKSBURG -- Despite long lines and huge crowds, dedicated shoppers were up before the crack of dawn Friday in hopes of snagging a bargain or two.
The day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas season, and is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Local stores drew large crowds Friday with earlier-than-normal openings and by promising bargain hunters big savings.
Popular items this year include Christmas trees, scooters, pogo sticks and Tickle Me Elmo dolls, said Kmart employee Gloria Martin.
Bob the Builder dolls, Holiday Barbie and Lego toys quickly disappeared from the shelves. Shoppers also stocked up on household items and storage boxes.
Parking lots were full and lines were already forming in the pre-dawn hours at several local stores. Coffee and cookies awaited early-bird shoppers, most of whom were wide awake and eager to begin their quest. Despite the lack of sleep, large crowds and long lines, most shoppers were in high spirits.
Alice Arbogast of West Milford, her daughter, Jennifer Dye, and 8-year-old granddaughter, Audri, were waiting in line at 5:30 a.m. for Ames to open.
"Last night I told my husband, 'you hunters think you're something getting up early, but tomorrow we're going to make the frost fly,'" said Arbogast.
A veteran shopper, Arbogast explained to her daughter and granddaughter the fine points of early-bird shopping.
"You have to know what you're after ahead of time," she said. "Bring the flyer with you and just go for it."
Friday was shopper-in-training Dye's first experience in pre-dawn shopping, and she was slightly overwhelmed.
"Mom was giving us pointers in the car," she said. "We went to Kmart first, and it was so crowded I just left my cart. People are probably ransacking it right now, looking for stuff!"
By 6 a.m., Toys R Us was out of both parking spaces and shopping carts.
Toys R Us employee Jessica Jaggie said she didn't realize so many people would be out so early.
"Everyone seems to be coming and going very quickly," she said.
Jaggie said that although many shoppers did not seem to be after a particular item, she expected the Harry Potter merchandise to be very popular.
When Kmart opened at 5 a.m, a crowd was already forming.
"I'm here for the thrill of getting up at 4 a.m. and standing in line for three hours to save $6," quipped Penny Newman of Melbern, Ohio. Like many shoppers, Newman was in town visiting family, and they decided to do some early holiday shopping.
For many shoppers, the tradition of early shopping was more important than the actual bargains. Peggy Donaldson and her daughters, Amy Arnold and Wendy Morrison, come out every year as part of their many mother-daughter adventures, and even wore matching outfits for the occasion.
"We drove two hours to be here," said Donaldson. "We do it just for fun."
"We just finished a marathon shopping trip at Gatlinburg (Tenn.)," said Morrison. "We're kind of serial shoppers!"
Like many experienced early-bird shoppers, the women knew what they were after.
"We were here yesterday and scoped the place out," said Arnold. "We know where to find about everything we want."
Don Drennen of Monongah sipped coffee while his wife and sister-in-law shopped at Kmart. Drennen said it is a tradition for the two women to come out early and shop, and he is usually the designated driver.
"They might hit a couple more stores, too," he said. "My sister-in-law is in from Hanover, Pennsylvania. They do this every year, and they have fun."
Drennen said no one seemed to mind standing in line.
"We got here at 4 a.m., and there was already a long line. This is capitalism at its best," he said with a grin.