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Black Friday crowds turn out in force

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Lines form at One - among the many in the early hours of Black Friday(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Black Friday may have lost its novelty for locals, but the faithful still turned out in force — for pre-Christmas festivities as much as special deals.

The absence of Digicel and Bermuda’s declining population meant less foot traffic than in previous years, but shopkeepers remained upbeat about their performance.

“This is my first one, and it’s lived up to the hype,” said Laura Husband, department manager at Annex Toys, where customers with Christmas in mind snapped up popular toys: Shopkins figures — this year’s surprise craze — plus Doc McStuffins, and gadgets like the VTech action cam.

“I’ve got nieces, nephews and two children; I’m out to get some stocking stuffers,” said 5am shopper Patrick Murdoch.

“Plenty of people won’t come out for this nowadays. They’re a little jaded with it. But People’s Pharmacy was 50 people deep.”

The American retail bonanza started in 2010 as a promotion for mobile phones, and Bermuda’s big stores adopted Black Friday as their own the following year, bringing giant crowds.

Five years on, yesterday’s showing may have been more modest in the small hours but stores have adapted by prolonging the sale period from the initial predawn rush.

George Grundmuller, president and CEO of Phoenix Stores, was on hand for its 4am opening where a queue snaked around the block, while a DJ kept spirits high.

“Customers knew exactly what they wanted to go for,” Mr Grundmuller reported by 7am. “Black Friday is for sure here to stay, for many years to come.

“What retailers are doing is bringing some of the Black Friday specials forward to spread out the workload. It got to a point where it was a challenge to manage all the crowds. Right now we’re just about where we were in the same period last year.”

Gibbons Company, like others, used the anticipation for a big Thursday night: “It was amazing,” CEO Paula Clarke said, as day broke over Hamilton. “We were supposed to close at 10pm. We still had customers at 10.45pm. We opened at 5am today and had a really big rush.”

Ms Clarke, who represents the retail division of the Chamber of Commerce, added: “I felt the foot traffic on the streets was not as much as previous Black Fridays.

“In previous years, the offers from the cell companies have got people excited, and the reality is we have a smaller population than past years and our heyday.

“But retailers are working really hard to keep till dollars in Bermuda, and we are fairly happy with what we have seen.”

Black Friday still comes with a touch of dread in the US, with stories each year of cut-throat shoppers stopping at nothing. Bermudian shoppers, more sedate, enjoy its social side.

“Look around, everybody here is happy,” said Kalreta Conyers-Steede, waiting in the doorway of Brown & Co.

“I’ve been here since midnight and I come out for it every year. It’s the atmosphere.”

Nearby, Beverly Marshall waited to pick up some artwork for her living room at a 40 per cent discount.

“The music’s nice,” Ms Marshall said. “People are dancing. It’s friendly.”

Poised near the front of the Phoenix queue, Ereka Gift was another annual Black Friday regular, and she agreed that the atmosphere was lively.

“But I’m here for the sales,” she said, having waited from midnight. Fellow customers cheered as staff readied to unlock the doors.

Far less people camped out for phones this year, but demand remains strong: first-timers Heather and her son Brent put out their chairs at 2am outside One on Church Street to snap up special deals on iPhones.

Surprised to be the only ones there at 3.45am, Heather was happy to arrive early to reap the special deals for the first 50 — and she soon had company.

While some shoppers are sceptical of the discounts, the two stood to make big savings, she said.

“Why pay all that when you can make a little sacrifice and save a couple of hundred, or pay nothing at all?”

The scene was replicated at several of the island’s major shops, where staff have grown used to the retail festivities.

“I don’t get it,” confessed one, who asked not to be named. “All these people — it’s too much. But as soon as they see the offers they start calling us, seeing what they can get. They’re having a good time.”

A spokesperson from One Communications said: “There was a line-up outside our Church Street store this morning, in time for our 5am opening. Since then we’ve had a steady stream of customers. Shoppers are loving both the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy specials we’re offering.

“Since this is the first Friday for late-night shopping, we’ll be open in town till 8pm.”

Shoppers search for bargainss at Gibbons Company(Photograph by Blaire Simmmons)
CellOne's "first" Black Friday customer, Brent Burke. Helping with the purchase of the iphone 6s is employee, Omar(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)