Spending the day


The Wal-Mart parking lot was strewn with the carnage of more than six hours of holiday shopping by noon on Black Friday.

Store circulars stuck to the damp asphalt lot off of Columbus Boulevard. Torn boxes and crushed Styrofoam packing discarded by earlier bargain hunters who couldn’t fit large packages into their vehicles became obstacles for a second wave of shoppers trying to park.

Wal-Mart employees barely kept up with the corpses, gathering the empty television, stereo and kitchen appliance boxes and stacking them in an 8-foot-high mass grave that extended almost half the length of the store.

It was all part of a record-setting sales day for the national retail chain.

Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Arkansas boasted its cash registers sizzled the day after Thanksgiving to the tune of $1.52 billion in sales. Initially, these strong figures and similar ones posted by other major retailers had analysts believing consumers were riding the wave of the growing economy.

They soon backed away from those statements, noting that Wal-Mart, for example, saw a 6.3-percent increase in Black Friday business compared to last year. However, 2002 Black Friday sales increased 14.4 percent compared to 2001.

Then, when the experts factored in the new stores the chain has opened in the last year, they figured this year’s growth to pretty much be a wash.

Locally, Black Friday looked about the same as it does every year. Those who didn’t head for the food courts and shelter from the cool, damp weather in suburban malls crammed themselves into the big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Kmart in Whitman Plaza.

Smaller businesses in those two shopping centers benefited from some of the leftover scraps. Anywhere not within eyesight of a shopping center did not even get that.

At Whitman Plaza, Jamie Frattarola and Jennifer Torilo were among those not shopping. They were on break from Sally’s Beauty Supply. Both said they rarely go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Frattarola called the notion of lining up outside stores before sunrise for sales "totally ridiculous."

"After I have Thanksgiving dinner, the last thing I want to do is wake up at 2 in the morning," the resident of 12th and McKean said. "I want to sleep."

Frattarola plans to keep a tight holiday budget this year because she has student loans and other debts to pay. Torilo, however, said she will spend more this holiday season than she did last year.

"I have a job this year," said Torilo, from Sixth and Reed streets. "I can actually spend money."

Outside the Old Navy off of Columbus Boulevard, a few shoppers left with arms full of yellow and blue bags from the store. Maria Turner, from Southwest Philly, started shopping early and was about to finish early. Around noon on Friday, she proudly reported that she needed to make one more stop and she was set for the holidays.

Asked what she thought this year’s big seller might be, Turner replied, "I haven’t found it yet. Do you know where it is?"

Keshia Bernard and her 6-year-old son Isheen left Old Navy with the largest load of shopping bags. Bernard said she had already spent $500 on clothes alone.

The resident from the 2000 block of South 27th Street said she, like everyone else shopping on Black Friday, is looking for bargains, even though she predicted she would spend "a whole lot more" than she did last year.

Bernard expected to be finished all her holiday shopping by 2 p.m. that day if she maintained enough energy to fight through some of the crowds.

"[Stores] have been jam-packed," she said. Customers are "snatching things off the shelves. As soon as they put it up, they snatch it off."

Sisters Frances Pfeffer and Jennifer Firlein and their cousin, Jackie Righter, have made Black Friday shopping marathons an annual tradition. This year, they started shopping at 6 a.m. and did not expect to stop for the day before 9 p.m. After leaving Old Navy around noon, they were headed for the Deptford Mall in New Jersey.

And Friday was not the end.

"We’re not even done, not even close to being done," said Pfeffer, from 18th and Mifflin streets. The trio counted 34 people for whom they had to buy gifts. "We’ll still be out the day before Christmas Eve."

It was a typical Black Friday on East Passyunk Avenue — which means it was quiet.

Robert Ravelli, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, intends to change that tradition, but this year his efforts are limited because he is still getting the BID up and running.

On Friday, though, he was found talking to a merchant on the avenue about Tuesday’s kickoff to this year’s Christmas campaign.

Three nights a week now through the holidays, the BID has arranged for a float to travel through the neighborhoods along the periphery of East Passyunk Avenue with Santa Claus and two elves. While a sound system plays Christmas carols, Ravelli said, members of the BID will distribute a directory of businesses on East Passyunk and fliers promoting individual shops.

Two merchants spending their first Black Friday on the avenue were hoping the district could bring more business there in future holiday seasons.

"It’s all got to be good," said Anna Frangiosa, owner of Ballroom to Bedroom, which opened Oct. 16 at 1539 E. Passyunk Ave. "I don’t see how it can hurt."

Most people who have found their way to her shop specializing in women’s clothing and lingerie have made purchases, Frangiosa said, "but I am not getting the traffic through the door."

She decided to open the store on Passyunk Avenue not long after buying a home in the neighborhood.

"Mostly because I think it was a good opportunity to get into an area that has a lot of incentive because of the business improvement district," Frangiosa said. "If you have a long lease and you wait, I think this area might become a hip place, at least I’m hoping."

Further down the avenue, Lawrence Wang opened Philadelphia Scooters in May. He expects he will sell most of his scooters, which generally retail between $2,000 and $3,000, in the spring, but he already has sold one that he was told will be a Christmas present.

Wang lived in New York for five years, and said he envisions Passyunk Avenue becoming similar to that city’s Delancey Street shopping district.

"In New York that’s the hottest place to be because it’s Old World Jewish and a lot of eclectic stores have moved there … Passyunk Avenue is the same thing," he said. "It’s Old World Italian. It’s deep in the heart of South Philly. It’s safe, storefronts are inexpensive and it’s easy for people to get to from Center City."