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Black Friday — Assessment A Little Gray

But optimism is shared by merchants this holiday season.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving which traditionally launches the holiday shopping season, was not as spectacular for individual merchants as it was reported to be for the large mass marketing stores.

That was the consensus of retailers in Old Town Alexandria and the Mount Vernon District. The day gets its name from the hope that shoppers will make it a day for retailers to kick off the annual buying frenzy in the black.

Part of the lackluster inauguration can be attributed to the rainy weather on Friday itself. Most merchants saw a marked increase in shoppers on both Saturday and Sunday.

"We were down somewhat on Friday. I attribute that to the rain. People did come in while waiting for the tree lighting ceremony. But, as soon as it was over they went home," said Betsy Husser, manager, House in the Country, 107 N. Fairfax Street, Old Town.

At the Imaginarium, 118 King Street., there was the added boost of a storewide "Everything Must Go" sale. It has fallen victim to corporate downsizing by Toys "R" Us, the parent company, which will close all Imaginarium stores no later than January 31, 2004.

"We saw double digit increases this past weekend," said Bryan Egan, manager. "It's amazing how many people rushed in to take advantage of items that were marked down only 10 percent." Some items have been discounted as much as 50 percent off the original price.

Stanley E. Rudy, co-owner, Wilfred-Rodgers, 320 King Street, verified, "This year's Black Friday was not as good as last year. But, the overall weekend was better."

THAT ASSESSMENT of "okay, but not great" applied to merchants at both Belle View and Hollin Hall shopping centers as well. "The two years we've been level. Not up or down for the holiday season. But with all that's been happening, that's a plus in my mind," said Deborah Bentley, co-owner, The Gift Store, 7910 Fort Hunt Road.

"For the end of November we are right were we are supposed to be in sales. The traffic has been steady. It was a good kick off," she said.

Next door at The Blossom Shop, 7906 Fort Hunt Road, co-owner Dorothy M. Trimber, assessed, "Friday was slow because of the rain. But, Saturday was pretty steady." She also felt, "More people seemed to go out of town this Thanksgiving."

Her shop is normally closed on Sunday. However, they commence Sunday hours of noon to 5 Pp.m. this weekend through December 21.

For Kevin W.C. Green, owner, The Virginia Florist, 1632 Belle View Boulevard in the Belle View Shopping Center, "It was an average holiday sales day. Wednesday was actually much blacker than Friday.

"Sales were fine and the economy is definitely upticking. Christmas is looming very large for us. This is particularly true for our corporate decorating business. We did a lot of that over the Thanksgiving weekend."

At Hodges Gallery, also in Belle View Shopping Center, "Sales were pretty good. But, it was sort of quiet. However, many of our customers have a tendency to wait till the last minute," said Libby Bryant, manager.

Another Belle View merchant, Shawn Carter, assistant manager, Radio Shack, designated Black Friday as "Good, but about the same as last year. Mostly, people came in looking specifically for what was in our holiday shopping flyer."

Although national statistics claimed a Black Friday spending increase ranging from six to seven percent, that appeared to be limited to the large discount and department stores located in the malls or as free standing large box stores. Individual merchants experience only a modest increase in 2003 as compared to 2002.

THE NEXT THREE weekends will write the merchandising history for 2003. As noted by Jim Silver, co-publisher, Toy Wishes, a leading toy industry publication, "Even though we are expecting holiday toy sales to be up, that will probably only bring the overall year out flat."

He explained that in the toy industry, a major component of the holiday sales season, "Sales for the first eight months of 2003 have been very down. The last quarter is expected to be up. But, that will only bring the industry in with a small profit for the year at best." It was that flatness that nailed Imaginarium's coffin closed.

There are a series of events throughout the City of Alexandria and Mount Vernon District in the next three weeks that draw crowds who can also become shoppers. Alexandria traditional Scottish Walk festivities are this weekend and all three estates of Mount Vernon, Woodlawn, and Gunston Hall are featuring holiday specials throughout the season.

Those activities and others like them will largely determine whether the local holiday economy will go down as Ho!Ho!Ho! or Oh!Oh!Oh!