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Saturday and Sunday Outshine 'Black Friday'

Small specialty shops hold their own against big retailers

They jammed the malls and big box stores early Friday morning, but as the day wore on shoppers tended to favor smaller specialty shops.

"Black Friday," along with Saturday and Sunday, turned out better than expected for local non-mall retailers in Old Town Alexandria as well as Belleview and Hollin Hall shopping centers. Although some said sales were less than last year's kickoff holiday shopping weekend, the majority were pleased with the results.

Two of the venues are aided by major holiday events that bring shoppers to them. This weekend the City of Alexandria will host the 35th Scottish Walk with myriad activities highlighted by Saturday morning's parade of the clans.

"This coming weekend is always really big for us. This past weekend was on a par with last year. Saturday and Sunday were much better than Friday. Although Friday afternoon proved better than Friday morning," said Stanley E. Rudy, owner of Wilfred-Rogers on King Street.

The Shops at Mount Vernon also benefited from the first of three weekend Candlelight Tours of the mansion. The shops remain open until 9:30 p.m. on tour evenings allowing visitors to browse and, hopefully, buy.

"We had a very good weekend, all three days. But, we were also helped by the Candlelight Tours. I do think though that shoppers are being a little more cautious this year than last," said Julia A. Mosley, Mount Vernon Garden and Estates’ director of retail.

Betsy Husser, manager at The Christmas Attic's House in the Country, on N. Fairfax Street, also pronounced this first shopping weekend a success.

"We had a very good weekend. We sold lots of Department 56 villages. And, of course Santa was here so that was a big draw,” Husser said.

At the Discovery Channel Store on King Street, manager Ryan Sander thought Black Friday was, "busier than last year. And, Saturday was busier than Friday. Although traffic was down about 30 percent sales were up so they were buying more."

As documented by their window display, "The big items this year are anything 'robo.' The biggest seller in that category is Roboraptor. I expect it to sell out prior to Christmas," Sander said.

Roboraptor, which sells for $99.95, is an electronic dinosaur that looks like a miniature version of the real prehistoric creature. Other top sellers thus far are DVD players and DVDs.

"The best selling DVD is "The Elegant Universe" for $19.95," Sander said.

On the so-so sales side was Why Not children’s store "Sales for this first holiday weekend were about the same as last year. We weren't down. It was actually better on Friday than Saturday," said Why Not owner Kate Schlabach.

At Gallery Lafayette on King Street, store owner Todd Healy reported that sales were unchanged.

"We were pretty flat. There needs to be more promotion of local shops,” Healy said. “Scottish Walk should bring a lot more business this weekend."

Theoni Panagopoulos, manager of Artcraft on King Street had slow, but steady sales.

"It was good but only about the same as last year. Saturday and Sunday were much better than Friday," she said.

At Belleview Shopping Center, a children's shop called Keedo had a very good weekend.

"This past Friday and Saturday were the best we've had in the seven years we've been in business,” said owner Lori Botha. “Usually Friday is slow but that wasn't the case this past weekend.”

Black Friday and the rest of the weekend also turned out very positive for The Blossom Shop on Fort Hunt Road in the Hollin Hall Shopping Center.

"People hit us on the way back from the malls," said shop owner Dorothy Trimber. "The later part of Friday was much better than early in the day, when I think many people hit the malls for the bargains. We were very busy late in the day on Friday.”

Trimber said she has seen an increase on the decorating side of her business also.

"So far this season I've picked up two new residential clients and several of my business decorating clients have increased their orders for this year," Trimber said.

"Sunday sales out distanced Friday sales. That has never happened before," said Charles "Ben" Vennell, owner of the Hollin Hall Variety Store in Hollin Hall Shopping Center, who has been in business for 48 years.

"Friday was very slow getting started but that was because so many people rushed to the malls and big stores to get those supposed bargains on electronics like laptop computers. When they got there they found that the prices on the ones offered were not much different from everyday sale prices," he said.

Vennell said the three days were good for his store and though he doesn’t expect to break the bank, he doesn’t worry about his customers flocking to larger chain stores.

Overall "Black Friday," named for when retail merchants hope to be in the black with increased sales for the holiday shopping season, seemed to be a mixed bag tilting toward the plus side of the balance sheet.

With shoppers just getting geared up, the true analysis will come in the weeks ahead. That is when an old business adage will tell the tale: "It's not how much you make. It's how much you keep,"—better known as profit.