The clerk at the Gap smiled when asked if the Aspen store opens early on Black Friday, like the Gap stores in malls that have to open at midnight.
Nope, not here, said sales associate Cameron Stephens. Same hours as always.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is not the retail juggernaut here that it is in many parts of the country, where it is typically one of the top five largest grossing days of the year. Aspen’s clientele just doesn’t seem to be the type of crowd that spends all night in the Wal-Mart parking lot, breaking down the door at 5 a.m. in an effort to get to the deeply discounted sale items first.
But Black Friday is important to local retailers because Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the winter season and can be a forecaster for the rest of the holidays. While assessments of this year’s business compared to last year’s differed by retail establishment, one thing is certain: It’s a lot busier than the last few weeks of a particularly off off-season.
The Gap is one of many national retailers that, in light of the economy, is hoping to entice customers with more and deeper discounts than typically seen during the holiday shopping season.
The Aspen Gap store doesn’t necessarily employ the same price discounting strategies as more conventional locations, but there are more sale items than normal for Aspen at this time of year, sales associate Linda Cowling confirmed. Particularly popular on Friday was a buy-one-get-one-free sale on sweaters, a deal available for one day only. According to Cowling and Stephens, Friday was on track to meet or exceed the sales projection of $11,000 to $12,000. Last year’s Black Friday was a $13,000 day, they said.
Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass, who owns five downtown retail establishments including his nick-namesake at Hunter and Cooper, said sales Friday were about 30 percent off from the same day last year across all his stores. This is despite the fact that Weinglass put more items on sale in his stores than he normally would this time of year.
“I don’t know if they are bargain hunting or not, but my normal customer is not spending as much this year,” he said.
Weinglass knew that Friday morning’s fresh snow would eat into his business — as opposed to last year’s snow-less Black Friday — but clearly the economic downturn plays a role, he said.
And while the Friday after Thanksgiving doesn’t account for as much activity at Boogie’s than at a typical suburban mall, it does tend to set a precedent for how the overall Christmas retail season will go, Weinglass said, which makes Friday’s numbers “a little scary.”
But he remains hopeful that a currently projected 25 percent drop in occupancy over the Christmas-New Year’s week can still turn around. The stock market has perhaps bottomed out, and if it continues its upward trend through mid-December, many would-be Aspen visitors might decide to make the trip after all, he said. And all the better if the snow continues to fall, particularly this weekend as the world will see live pictures from the World Cup races.
Many stores, from Aspen Furs to the Ute Mountaineer, were not offering any special Black Friday sales.
“It was your typical day as opposed to your atypical day,” Aspen Furs owner Mickey Alper said.
It’s too early to judge the behavior of this season’s customers versus last year’s, he added, but so far Thanksgiving holiday visitation seems about on par with years past.
There certainly were more bag-toting shoppers wandering Aspen’s downtown core on Friday than in weeks past, although it’s difficult to judge the relative volume compared to those of prior Thanksgivings.
Jackie Westbrook of Pinehurst, N.C., was shopping on Friday with three other women from the East Coast. All are in town for a wedding. The day’s shopping was mostly devoted to gifts for the wedding and not necessarily for Christmas.
“And a little for me,” Westbrook said, sporting a just-purchased fur hat.
There were some sale items to be found, but there’s no mistaking Aspen for a place to find deep discounts, Westbrook said.
“An Aspen sale is going from astronomic to ridiculous,” she said with a laugh.