Black Friday starts early in The Villages

Kathy Harvey, of the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, walks away with early-morning Black Friday deals as she checks out from Target. She was one of many residents who packed local retailers Friday.

The temperature was a crisp 50 degrees by 5:30 a.m. Friday as the line at Belk in La Plaza Grande had about 20 people. The gathering grew steadily as headlights pierced the predawn morning. The shoppers were waiting patiently for the 6 a.m. opening. Norris Krohn, a 15-year veteran of Black Friday who was one of many local residents getting an early start on holiday shopping, explained his strategy begins by buying a copy of the Thursday Daily Sun and going through the ads to map out a game plan. Krohn, who lives nearby in Spruce Creek, read through 30 pages of ads to see if there was something he wanted, but he was there for the gift cards, which Belk passed out to early birds. The minimum value was $5, and one was a $500 card. Last year Krohn got a $10 card, and his wife used it to buy a bracelet.

“She added quite a few dollars to that 10, it was a diamond bracelet,” he said.

He’s hoping to receive one of a higher value today, perhaps the $500 card.

“I’m guaranteed $5 for standing in this line,” he said. “It’s like going to the casinos. I like pulling the handle.”

Krohn explained his philosophy on shopping is based on want.

“Ninety percent off something I don’t want isn’t a good deal for me,” he said.

Ying Shedarowich , of the Village of Sanibel, got up before 4 a.m. in hopes of buying a coat for one of her six grandchildren. She shopped Thursday when the store opened at 4 p.m., received a card worth $10 and bought a jacket, and returned Friday morning.

“Sometimes I buy things and donate them to the church,” Shedarowich said.   

Lily Tran,  of Leesburg, was in line with her daughter, Emily Han. 

“We’re doing this for the excitement,” Tran said with a laugh. “It’s like waiting in line for a concert. It’s just the thrill of the hunt.”

Their mission was a Christmas gift for an uncle.

When store manager Greg Hoenig opened the doors, shoppers entered to the sound of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” People started coming in from the parking lot, where they had waited in warm cars. About 35 shoppers streamed in, greeted by employees passing out sales flyers and the coveted gift cards. Inside the store the was filled with stacks deals that protruded into isles.

“Yesterday was our techie sale,” Hoenig  said. “We had Airbuds on sale and they went quickly, but we still have some tech deals. Today it turns into shopping for everybody and last-minute gifts.”

At Target, only one man was in line at 6:20 a.m., but as the clock moved closer to the scheduled 7 a.m. opening, people started showing up. Dean Collins, of the Village of Chatham  was in line to get a deal on a 60-inch TV.

“I’ve bought all of my TVs on Black Friday, but I haven’t bought one in 10 years,” Collins said. “We’re doing some remodeling and I have room for a bigger TV now, and I’m a TV guy.”

He started at Walmart, but found out the deals there started Wednesday and all of them were gone. Next, he went to Lowe’s for the gift card gamble.

“I was at Lowe’s to get a gift card, but I scratched it and it said no money for Dean,” he said. “There was a $500 prize but I didn’t get it, so I’m here for a TV.”

Further back in the line, Diane Jochum, of Wildwood, was in line with her daughter, Pamela Hyde, of Weirsdale, and her son, Drew Mommaerts, who was allowed to come along if he obeyed the rules. The two women had T-shirts on that Jochum  made especially for their annual Black Friday adventures. Their shirts identify them as the Black Friday Crew. Last year they drove to Orlando for some deals and a free Mickey Mouse Christmas ornament.

“The rules are simple,” Jochum  said. “No whining and keep up. We’re doing this all day.”

Tanya Hileman , of Lady Lake, was in line to shop for her children but didn’t want to say what she was shopping for because they’re home-schooled and read the paper every day.

“We were at Tractor Supply, and there weren’t many people there,” she said. “We walked right in. There was a couple there from Kissimmee who run a cat rescue. They bought all of the cat litter.”

About 20 people waited at Best Buy for the doors to open at 8 a.m. 

Mary Ann Dawson,  of the Village Hacienda, got up at 4 a.m. to be first in line. She was on a cruise Thursday and missed the deal she wanted, but looked  for a 65-inch TV on sale for $300. She brought a cushion to set on the shopping cart while she waited.

“It’s kind of like tailgating,” Dawson said. “You get to talk to people. I chat with my friends on the phone while I’m waiting.”

A few minutes later, store staff came out and passed out certificates for big-ticket items to eliminate a rush at the counter. It’s an indication of how stores have improved their sales to eliminate the conflicts between customers wanting the same items. Although the numbers of people waiting have diminished in recent years, shoppers’ enthusiasm remains a driving force.

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday, which takes place today, is one of the most important days of the year for local merchants. It’s a day set aside for focusing on the importance of supporting mom-and-pop stores that compete with big-box stores and online options.

According to the Florida Retail Federation, a vast majority of retailers (98%) are small businesses, with 50 or fewer employees.

The Florida Retail Federation reported that 2019 is expected to be a record year for the state’s retailers. Holiday sales are expected to grow between 3.8% and 4.2% over 2018.

“One in five jobs in Florida is tied to the retail industry,” said Scott Shalley,  president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “And one of the best ways we can support our neighbors, friends and families who work in this industry is to shop at Florida’s small businesses (today).”

Sumter County Economic Development Director Frank Calascione explained the significance of supporting these businesses.

“Small businesses employ roughly 50% of the employees in the private sector here in the U.S.,” he said. “One of our core missions is to support small businesses here in the county.”

Sumter County supports the Small Businesses Development Center through a partnership with the University of Central Florida in Orlando. This relationship allows the county to have a area manager that serves small businesses by providing business plans, evaluations for expansion, quality, no-cost council for their business growth.

This Shop Small day marks the 10th anniversary of the brainchild of American Express. The event was created in the midst of the recession in 2010. Today, the event is celebrated and supported in every state.

Sumter County Commission Doug Gilpin said small businesses are in partnership with the community they serve in many ways.

“The Villages is a large community made up of many small Villages and the business community in Sumter is the same thing,” Gilpin said. “It’s a large thing that is really made up of many small families working together to have success.” 

Gilpin added that in the past there weren’t as many opportunities as there are now, which has contributed to the shared success of many family businesses.

“Small business is the backbone of America,” Gilpin said. “Our chamber of commerce has more members that we ever dreamed it would have and that record membership is made up of members that are active and excited and enthused about the future of business in Sumter County.”

He said Sumter County has rock-solid development that will continue to grow the right way.

“There aren’t many communities that can say that, and it’s really a blessing,” Gilpin said.

He added that small businesses and the community they serve have a symbiotic relationship that online and big-box stores can’t match.

“The Sumter County Fair is coming up and small businesses of all sizes come to support the kids and the animal auctions,” Gilpin said. “All of that money goes to college scholarships, so it really is a community effort.”

The King’s Gallery in Spanish Springs is not the typical small business in The Villages in that a significant percentage of its sales are shipped out of the area, according to co-owner Candy Coldwell.

She explained that the gallery is a must-see location for Villagers when friends visit.

Trish Smith, of the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, who greets customers and gives tours of the glass items and artwork, said, “Regardless of sales, there is always a good deal to be had in the gallery.”

At the Purple Pig in Lake Sumter Landing, store owner Debbie Heiner  said her success is based on providing a variety of unique products. Heiner, who has been in the retail business for 42 years, says communicating with customers and learning their needs is paramount to success in a small business.

Joyce Dupuis,  of the Village of Hemingway, said she can’t pass the store without coming in to shop. On Friday she was in the store trying to find a $10 gift for a grab bag at a party.

“Everything they have here is so nice,” Dupuis.  “If I want something special, this is where I would come.”

At Woof Gang Bakery in Brownwood Paddock Square, Bruce and Sarah Allen were shopping for their border collie, Sadie. They allowed Sadie to sniff dog foods to see which one she responds to.

“We shop here at least once a month because I like to support the local economy,” Sarah said. “We also shop local businesses in Wildwood where we live.”

Nearby at Rustic Rose Boutique in Brownwood, Tonja Rambow,  of the Village of DeSoto,  said she shops in small business all the time.

“I love small businesses because I like to support the local economy,” Rambow said. “I’m always here shopping. I love their fashions, and their home goods are also very good. Their customer service is excellent.”

 She added that all of the stores around the squares are superb options for shopping.

“These stores are fabulous and very friendly,” Rambow said. “I would much rather come to a place like this than go to a big department store.”

Staff writer Frank Ross can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367 or frank.ross@thevillagesmedia.com.