STEUBENVILLE - By 5 a.m., Sheena Fullen was just getting started.
Fullen, a self-admitted bargain lover, had been prowling Black Friday sales aisles since, well, Thanksgiving evening.
"I do it every year," the Wintersville resident said as a cashier at the Kmart store in the Tri-State Plaza tallied the damage she'd done to her bank account. "I like a deal. I've been doing it since I was a kid with my mom. I've missed one year, since I was like 8."
CHECKING OUT — Wintersville resident Sheena Fullen says planning is key to a successful Black Friday shopping excursion. To make the most of the incredible bargains, Fullen said you need to go into the stores knowing exactly what you’re looking for.
-- Linda Harris
TAKING A BREAK —Jennifer Durbin and her 14-year-old daughter, Ashley, take a break after shopping all night at the Fort Steuben Mall. The Durbins, Wintersville residents, are first-time Black Friday shoppers.
-- Linda Harris
GREAT DEALS — Tabatha Owings and her husband, Aaron, say Black Friday deals are tough to pass up. The Owings, residents of Follansbee, stood in line two hours to buy a 32-inch HDTV, then hung around another six hours to grab a tool chest at the Weirton Wal-Mart.the incredible bargains, Fullen said you need to go into the stores knowing exactly what you’re looking for.
-- Linda Harris
Shoppers poured into the stores Thursday, foregoing an extended holiday celebration for the annual holiday shopping rite of passage that offered deals too good to pass up like a 50-inch 1080p HDTV at Sears for just $299, the iconic iPad 2with Wi-Fi for just $399 at Wal-Mart, a 46-inch 1080p HDTV for $299 at Kmart, clothes galore at Macy's and J.C. Penney and crafty stuff at JoAnn's.
"People were lined up at the front of the store," said Donna Eastham, manager of Sears at the Fort Steuben Mall. "We gave out tickets, and even though they knew they weren't going to get some things they still stood in line."
How crazy was it? The "up" escalator filled up fast, so "we had people running up the down escalator," she said. "It was solid people."
Fourteen-year-old Ashley Durbin of Wintersville, a Black Friday newbie, couldn't help but smile as she looked at her mother, Jennifer, sitting beside her on a bench in front of Macy's in the Fort Steuben Mall.
"I nailed some deals," she said with pride, pointing to the bags stacked at her feet. "It's been fun, I think it's cool being able to shop at night."
Ashley said she's begged her mother to go "the past three years now and we never went. Finally, this year, we came."
"It's fun to be able to say we did it," her mother said. "It's become such a big thing now, we wanted to experience it."
Sears employee Jamie Cross finished her shift Friday morning and then did some shopping of her own before heading home to sleep.
Cross, a Wellsburg resident who was lugging a coffeemaker and a bag filled with clothes to her car, said the bargains were too good to pass up.
"I'm done for now," pronounced Jessica Clevenger of New Cumberland. "I've been out since 6 last night, that's when we started. I've got one more thing to go pick up, a TV, and then I'm going to go home and go to bed."
Jodie Strother, manager of the Steubenville Kmart, said the crowd had been unbelievable.
"I've been in this business for 22 years and I've never seen this volume of traffic on a holiday," she said. "We closed at 4 yesterday and reopened at 8 p.m. We stayed open until 3 a.m., then we closed again and reopened at 5 a.m. Our associates never once complained, they did what they had to do. We all know we're in retail and right now, retail's about winning customers and keeping them as customers."
Of course, it helped that retailers "made their sales so people couldn't stay home," Strothers said.
"It's all about electronics," she added. "We had people lined up to the Dollar Tree."
Fullen, though, concedes Black Friday shopping is not for the faint of heart.
"You've gotta' make a plan the day before, we do that on Thanksgiving in our family," she said with a quick glance at her watch. "You don't get in and out of a store in 25 minutes without a plan. You have to map out exactly what you're going to do."
Knowing the store layout "helps immensely," she adds, though adding that it's not foolproof since some chains have a propensity for tucking in-demand toys in the tool aisle and doorbuster tools in the toys aisle.
In Weirton, Aaron and Tabatha Owings of Follansbee were calling it a day after a nine-hour stint at Wal-Mart.
"We've been here since 8 last night," Tabatha said, admitting the 32-inch HDTV they'd picked up was too good a deal to pass up.
"And this bad boy," her husband said, cradling a Stanley six-draw rolling tool cabinet with an 85-piece socket set.
Tabatha Owings said it's their third year on the Black Friday shopping circuit.
"I say (we're done) every year, but we keep coming back," she said. "The deals you get draw you back into it. But the madness, it's aggrevating ..we stood in line two hours for a TV because it was half off, that was from 8-10 p.m., and then we had to wait to 5 a.m. to get the tool chest."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)