SHERIDAN — Black Friday is becoming a misnomer across the nation, and Sheridan is no exception. Post-Thanksgiving sales events have, over the last few years, started earlier and earlier, and this year, big chain retailers successfully induced a shopping frenzy before turkey was even on the table.
On Coffeen Avenue, Walmart’s Black Friday sales started at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, with another to follow later that evening. While Sheridan’s Walmart is a 24-hour store, there’s no mistaking that last night’s shift wasn’t just any other night. Walmart Spokesperson Debbie Serr said Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving because of customer demand.
“Our customers will ultimately decide when they want to shop,” Serr said.
“We’ve seen that our customers like to shop early on Thanksgiving, get some sleep and come back again the next morning,” she continued.
Not to be outdone, Kmart on North Main Street opened at 6 a.m., two hours earlier than its usual time, Thursday. Store manager Duncan Irvine said that’s what it takes to stay in the game these days.
“We see it as a positive light to be competitive and give people options,” Irvine said. “People are going to have Thursday and Friday off, so we want to be flexible.”
The store’s three “door buster” events were Thanksgiving morning at 6, that night at 7 p.m., and the third was 6 a.m. today.
Two-thirds of Kmart’s Black Friday sales events were not technically on Black Friday. After the early opening, the store stayed open through last night and will remain open until 11 p.m.
Irvine said his full-time employees, and some others, will be eligible for time and a half “holiday pay” in addition to racking up extra hours.
While the phenomenon of extra early sales is, for now, mostly relegated to “big fish” retailers, the cutthroat marketing strategy could also be found on Main Street last night. In keepings with its other branches across the nation, J.C. Penney stayed up all night.
Aside from a handful of ambitious early-bird retailers, the rest of Sheridan’s Black Friday festivities kicked off this morning, though at that point, it was the equivalent of spillover from the main events.
A quick survey of major retailers revealed at 6 a.m. today yielded parking lots were full to an extent normally seen at noon on a payday, and maybe even then some.
With the Christmas shopping season officially underway, the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce is working hard to reinforce the importance of hometown shopping.
“‘Mom and Pop’ businesses are a big part of our economy and we’re always encouraging people to shop there,” Chamber CEO Dixie Johnson said, adding there’s room for both big and small retailers in Sheridan’s holiday economy.
“It’s good to have a healthy level of competition amongst retailers in business,” she said. “It only helps to make our economy thrive. Free enterprise is the backbone of a community.”
When pressed about whether bigger retailers like Walmart distort the economic climate for local family-owned shops, Johnson said shoppers understand the implications of each choice.
“When they’re going shopping, it’s not just about finding the product at the cheapest price,” she said. “It’s about the experience. When you walk into a local store, the customer service is phenomenal. You might be greeted by name.
“It can be way more personable, and people want that experience,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the Chamber’s perspective is that shopping local is a unifying, important factor.
“Walmart is absolutely a member of the Chamber. They give back to the community, as do a lot of chain stores,” she said, adding that sales tax generated at both locally owned businesses and jumbo-size chain stores are a benefit to local causes, thanks to the Optional One Cent and Capital Facilities Tax.
“Some larger stores here that are competitive keep people here,” she said, and pointed out that many more people would likely make the drive to Billings more often if large retailers weren’t locally present.
Whether a shopper is dismayed by the giant shadow of large corporate retailers, welcomes the option with open arms, or sees it as an inevitable element of free trade, one fact remains: there are only 26 shopping days left until Christmas.