Slideshow: Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day

blackfriday-lineHours before the sun came up on Friday, November 26, parking lots at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Toys 'R Us and K-Mart overflowed, and traffic streamed up and down 29N like some surreal middle-of-the-night rush hour. Those arriving late– after, say, 2am– shuffled across the parking lots to find lines so long, they might have thought Mick Jagger or Angelina Jolie was signing autographs at the front. Indeed, Black Friday seems to have taken root in the national consciousness and may now be as much a holiday as the day that precedes it.

According to recently released retail figures from the Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville/Albemarle area has seen retail growth of just over one percent in the first three quarters of 2010. Will the holiday season push that figure higher?

Judging from the first big weekend, it seems possible.

At Target in the Hollymead Town Center, an estimated 500 people waited for the store's 4am opening, many hoping for the store's best deal: a Westinghouse 40-inch flat screen for $298. Similarly slashed prices drew shoppers to the other big boxes. But what about the mom and pops?

This year, American Express launched an online campaign dubbed "Small Business Saturday" to drive shoppers to small, locally owned businesses– like the ones that line the Downtown Mall and dot the Corner and Barracks Road shopping center. The effortwon 1.2 million "likes" on Facebook. But did it work here in Charlottesville?

"No one mentioned it in the shop," says Paige Mattson, who co-owns the Blue Ridge Eco-Shop on the Mall with husband Hakon. Still, she says, "business was steady all weekend."

Other store owners report similar bits of good news. Marla Cantor, owner of Cha Cha's in Central Place, says business this holiday weekend was "neck and neck" with the same period of the last two years. Although the figures are lower than during the economic boom of four or five years ago, she's pleased numbers are holding steady considering her store–- like many others–- does as much as 30 percent of its annual business in November and December. "Retail wouldn't be in business," she laughs, "if there wasn't a Christmas."

Kim Kuttner says her upscale kid's clothing and accessory store, Petit B©b© on Water Street, had its best Black Friday weekend since its opening in 2004, a success she attributes to slashing prices–- shoppers got 40 percent off clothes Friday, 30 percent off Saturday and 20 percent Sunday. "It brought people in," she says.

But even steep price cuts couldn't lure participants of Buy Nothing Day, who attended a free clothing and gift exchange in front of Random Row books.

"It's about unspending," says the event organizer, Shelly Stern. "Not spending on material that will end up in the landfill in six months." SLIDESHOW.

–Story massively updated 2:09pm Tuesday, November 30


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