Port City prepares for Black Friday

By Anna Harris (File photo)

Alexandria’s annual spin on Black Friday is around the corner, which means area shoppers will have the option of avoiding the stress that comes with heading into big-box stores the day after Thanksgiving.

But just five years ago, Black Friday meant locked doors and “closed” signs for small, local retailers. Those who did stay open saw little foot traffic. They simply couldn’t compete with the deals that the big chains offered.

That was just the way things were until fibre space owner Danielle Romanetti decided to try something different.

“It’s the biggest shopping day of the year and has been around so long, we can’t ignore that it exists,” she said. “We have to do it and be involved in it, or we’re missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year, which is a huge loss to us.”

Instead of closing her doors and taking the day off, Romanetti offered deals to anyone who would show up. It was a gamble, but others, like Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile, saw what she was doing and jumped in.

“I was the only one that opened early [that year] and offered a discount,” said Romanetti. “I was able to convince some neighbors to do it [after that]. It snowballed from there.

“The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association promoted it [three years ago] as a holiday promotion. That’s when it became a citywide thing. The city signed on to help make it a big deal, and it became a citywide effort.”

And so the city’s celebration of steals and deals was born.

Participating local stores join forces with city officials to ensure Alexandria’s variation on the nation’s biggest shopping day stands out. Stores open at 6 a.m. — when the King Street Trolley begins running up and down the main drag — and don’t close until 8 p.m. Shoppers can park for free on the street or in any city-owned garages.

“Bring the whole family out for a wonderful shopping experience, mixing shopping with food and dining,” said Patricia Washington, president and CEO of the visitors association. “It’s [also] a perfect opportunity to come check out our museums.”

The growing tradition is poised to reach new heights this year. More than 60 area shops and boutiques will have special deals, and most will offer 30-percent discounts between 6 and 8 a.m. Then they will knock 20-percent off eligible items until 10 a.m., before giving 10-percent discounts for the rest of the day.

It’s true that larger chains like Wal-Mart or Best Buy boast bigger discounts, but organizers behind the city’s shopping holiday say there’s something about keeping it local, especially on Black Friday, that you can’t beat.

“It’s a more calm, enjoyable experience in Alexandria rather than the craziness that happens in malls and stores, where people are scrambling over each other to get stuff,” said Washington.

And shopping local is a good way to be unpredictable, said Susan Gerock, owner of Zoe Boutique. Many of the items sold in Old Town businesses aren’t available in other stores.

“By shopping small and local, you are guaranteed to find gifts for others [and for yourself] that no one else will give them,” said Gerock.

Shoppers can find the entire list of participating businesses on the visitors association’s website — www.visitalexandriava.com.

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