By Derrick Perkins
Bishop Boutique opened up shop shortly before Black Friday last year, and owner Kelly Ferenc jumped at the chance to join Old Town’s growing celebration of the unofficial shopping holiday.
“I was really excited to be a part of it,” she said. “I think it’s such a big, big shopping day, and I was so glad the boutiques and stores of Old Town grouped together and put on this whole thing — as a collective group — to draw in even more shoppers.”
About 50 Alexandria stores and shops will open early and offer discounts this year. Most can expect lines of cheerful customers waiting for the closed sign to flip around, organizers said. But the day after Thanksgiving wasn’t always such a popular shopping event in Alexandria.
Old Town shop owner Danielle Romanetti, a self-described regular Black Friday shopper — Ferenc admits to usually spending the post-turkey break sleeping and relaxing — got the ball rolling a few years ago. Then a new business owner, Romanetti wanted to duplicate her Black Friday traditions in her shop and began offering deals for customers who might otherwise wait in long lines at big box retailers.
It wasn’t long before she began urging fellow shop owners to join the fun, Romanetti told the Times last year. Though it was an uphill battle at first, she said.
“I think traditionally, shoppers that do shop on Black Friday have gone to the mall,” she said. “The parking is easier and they know stores are open earlier and they don’t always realize those things are available in Old Town, so businesses were hesitant to jump on board. Business, traditionally, was slow in Alexandria.”
At the time about two dozen shops were preparing to celebrate Black Friday. The number has since more than doubled.
“We really want people to have an alternative to the big-box stores and truly showcase that when you shop local the money goes back to the local community,” said Maurisa Potts, a marketing specialist spearheading Old Town’s Black Friday event.
And it’s not your usual pre-Christmas shopping spree, Potts said. There might be lines, the stores will open earlier — around 6 a.m. for most — and there will be discounts, but Alexandria’s version lacks the mobs and hustle-and-bustle associated with national retailers.
“Yes. I do shop at Target and Wal-Mart, but that’s when online shopping becomes a factor and I can shop at Target online and be perfectly happy and don’t have to wait in line,” Potts said. “Honestly, as a shopper, as an avid shopper, I patronize the small businesses on Black Friday and I do my big-box shopping on Cyber Monday. I’ve never waited in line at the big-box stores. … It goes back to the experience: What do I truly enjoy as a shopper?”
City Hall will lend a hand as well: offering free parking in municipal parking lots and garages, waiving fees on parking meters, and starting up the King Street Trolley at 6 a.m. While Black Friday deals help local shop owners, celebrating the unofficial holiday also showcases Alexandria to newcomers, said Jay Palermino of the chamber of commerce.
“Let’s also remember that this is a way that shows unity among the retailers in the City of Alexandria,” he said. “[It] will be a constant reminder to the shopper, the retail purchaser, that we have our act together, that Alexandria is a destination — be it Black Friday at whatever hour in the morning or any time during the holiday season.”
And that helps individual business owners as much as the city’s image, Ferenc said. Her regular customers will come Black Friday but so will shoppers new to the boutique.
“The success of the day is that the whole town participates,” she said. “Every other store in Old Town is all about shopping locally and bringing members and money and clients to Old Town. I think when a big event like this happens everybody can work together as a town and put on a special day.”