The official start of the holiday shopping season was marked by half-block-long lines formed before dawn as area residents heeded President Bush's call to shop for the good of the economy.
Armies of shoppers waited to snap up early-bird bargains at Kmart, the talk of the town for opening at 5 a.m. About 500 people were lined up outside JCPenney at Westfield Shoppingtown for its 7 a.m. opening, while across Interstate 55, a shoppers stood five and six deep from Target's front door back to Siemers Drive.
Hoping to get consumers back in the buying mood, many of the nation's top merchants opened the holiday shopping season Friday with expanded hours and some of the most aggressive discounts in recent years. Kmart, for example, will be open 66 hours straight, until 11 p.m. Sunday.
"When we opened at 5 a.m. it was wild," manager Bill Marra said. "As shopping carts went out, we retrieved them in a hurry. Customers were buying."
Perryville, Mo., resident Debbie Doll and her son, Toby Doll, made their first stop at Sears and moved over to Kmart.
"I wasn't one of the early birds," she said. "But when I arrived here, people were everywhere."
"I'm not through yet," Doll said. "We're going to make a food stop when we leave here, then head for more shopping."
The National Retail Federation has predicted that total holiday retail sales, excluding restaurant and auto sales, will rise only 2.5 percent to 3 percent from last year, to roughly $206 billion. That would make this year's retail growth the worst since 1990, when sales were basically unchanged.
Last holiday season, retailers rang up $201 billion in sales, up 3.9 percent from 1999.
But Cape Girardeau could buck the trend. Retail sales for the rest of the nation dropped 2.2 percent in September. But sales tax figures for Cape Girardeau county and city were 39 and 38 percent above totals for the for the same month last year.
Local retailers were encouraged by Friday's jump in sales.
"Sales here have been good the past couple of months," said Gary McDowell, JCPenney manager. "They slowed down some following the terrorist attack, but started picking up and we had a good October. Good sales have continued into November."
Hobby Lobby on South Kingshighway, which offers much seasonal merchandise, saw steady crowds on Friday, manager Dave Vaughn said. A couple of downtown merchants also were pleased with Friday's turnout.
"We've had excellent traffic," said Phyllis Humphries, manager of Patricia Ann's gift shop, 130 N. Main. "We have more people than usual. We've had a lot of out-of-town visitors."
Cape Girardeau-area shoppers were looking for a little of everything. Janeene Cunningham of Chaffee, Mo., was having a difficult time finding some items on her list.
"We're looking a rocking chair and basketball goal," she said. Cunningham's grandson, Cody Payne, already had one of the items on his list, a Junior Monopoly set.
But most went a little more high-tech. Target was sold out of the Xbox -- Microsoft's computer gaming device launched Nov. 15 -- by 9:30 a.m., two hours after the store opened. The units sell for about $300. The 240 CD-stereos the store advertised at $48 each were gone in a half-hour.
"This was much wilder than it has been in years past," manager Rick Done said. "It took us by surprise."
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