Shoppers Asked to Think Small

Holiday shoppers are hitting the stores early and often so far this season.

This year Black Friday turned into Gray Thursday with stores opening their door before midnight on Thanksgiving.

Big box stores like Walmart hailed it as a huge success. Walmart reported its best ever Black Friday crowds with the extended hours of sales, even as labor unions protested working condition. Walmart said every second between 8 p.m. and midnight Thursday, stores sold nearly five-thousand items.

But Gray Thursday is something others are hoping will go away.

Jessica Starkey, co-owner of her family’s chocolate and gift store, “Gourmet Works of Pleasanton,” said that Thanksgiving marks the start of their fresh chocolate-making frenzy in order to produce double the amount of product for Christmas sales.

She laughed and added, “We are in crazy mode for sure!”

In fact, Starkey said the store makes 25 percent of its annual business just within the six weeks of the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving.

However, the threat of Gray Thursdays becoming a tradition is daunting for her.

It’s the same with Chelsea Seymour, manager of the retail store “Therapy,” just a few doors down.

Seymour said the last six weeks for her store can bring in up to 30 percent of the total business in a year.

Seymour expressed concern about big box stores continuing to extend their Black Friday sale hours.

“We do worry about that and we question that because for us, as a small business, it’s hard to keep our doors open and have people here working if obviously nobody’s coming in. We can’t much less afford to have people working all these holidays and forcing them to do that.”

Both Seymour and Starkey added that it wasn’t just the timing of the new Gray Thursday trend, but the addition of the nearby Paragon Outlets in Livermore that also cut down on foot traffic through downtown Pleasanton.

Marlene Bonderud and her husband Bill, who was born in Pleasanton and later became a firefighter for the city, said they visit Downtown Pleasanton several times a week. They credit the city, as well as the Pleasanton Downtown Association, for keeping the area alive and thriving, including events like “Cash Mobs.”

“Everyone shows up in one place by City Hall and they pick one store,” Marlene said.

“Everyone takes 20 dollars to that store.” Her husband added that in the summertime, the city hosts events outdoors to attract new visitors.

“What they call ‘First Wednesday’ so they have a band playing, food, and booths. Plus all the stores are open and encourage you to do the shopping.”

The Bonderuds said they will continue to vote with their feet for their favorites because for them, the mom-and-pop shop experience transcends mere customer service – it’s the chance you can run into familiar faces.

They’re hoping their grandchildren will remember days and nights like these experiencing all that the historic downtown has to offer, and pass on the tradition of what Bill called “that hometown feeling.”

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