By CHERIL VERNON
Local shoppers were out in full force for Black Friday bargains — filling up parking lots and waiting in lines at stores offering early Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night and Friday morning.
“Walmart was CRAZY! (There was a) line from the garden center all the way to the front!” Raven Alberto wrote on the Herald-Press Facebook page about the Black Friday madness Thanksgiving night .
Those who preferred a little slower-paced shopping continued shopping throughout the day on Black Friday for special sales and incentives.
“We went to several different local stores today — it was a pretty good experience overall,” Amanda Holcomb Westbrook wrote on the Herald-Press Facebook page. “...I actually enjoy Black Friday shopping; I have been doing it with my mother for many years.”
In the Main Street District of downtown Palestine, the streets were bustling with activity throughout the day — with many who came to Palestine to ride the Polar Express™ at the Texas State Railroad and visit Santa’s Workshop in the downtown area.
“It’s been great. We’ve really had good traffic — a lot of out-of-towners,” L&L Store associate Susie Bennett said. “For a lot of them, this was their first time here and they just loved it. We sent many of them to Santa’s Workshop.”
Janice Schwab, who owns L&L Shoe Store with her husband, John, said many shoppers picked up shoes and clothing while visiting their store.
“We sold tons of Polos and Sketchers,” Schwab said. “We’ve done a lot of free gift wrapping.”
Across the street at the Coed Shop in downtown Palestine, owner Linda Foster was encouraged by the amount of traffic in the downtown area.
“We had a nice special and got a good response today,” Foster said. “We are very optimistic about the Christmas shopping season. We think it’s going to be really good. We’ve already wrapped gifts today and several on Wednesday. One group of ladies drove up Saturday from Galveston, stayed in our motels and spent the day downtown. We were glad to have them. It’s nice to see new faces.”
Cynthia Kinney and her family from Sulphur, La. were checking out the downtown area Friday afternoon.
“We are going to see the lights in Athens tonight (Land of Lights) and will ride the Polar Express™ tomorrow and will visit Santa’s Workshop,” Kinney said.
Ray and Carmen Miller of Stillwater, Okla. and their son, Drew, 5, were out and about in the downtown area Friday — dressed in matching Santa Claus pajamas.
“We came to Palestine to ride the Polar Express™. Drew loves trains. I wanted to find matching pajamas for the whole family and we found these,” Carmen Miller said.
Ray Miller added, “In the Polar Express™ movie, they all wear their pajamas on the train, so we wanted to do the same.”
After visiting Santa’s Workshop, Drew said, “I saw Santa. It was good.”
Down the street at the Texas Art Depot and Granny Muffin Wines, owners Mike and April Johnston credited the Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express™ for bringing people to the downtown area.
“It’s been steady — the train brought in a lot of people,” April Johnston said. “We had a bunch from North Carolina, some from Austin and some from New Hampshire. These were people who were visiting for the holidays and they brought them downtown to shop.”
The store also reported heavy online sales for Black Friday.
“We had a really good day with our online sales — very surprising — and we are expecting more for Cyber Monday.”
Today is Small Business Saturday and the Johnstons are hoping the Palestine community will remember to support local businesses throughout the Christmas shopping season.
“Anything you can do to help local businesses helps you in the long run. You are supporting your local tax base,” Mike Johnston said.
Sales for Granny Muffin Wines, for example, seem to pick up during the holidays.
“Our wine sales are pretty steady throughout the year, but during the holidays, they pick up some because wine makes a great all-around gift,” Mike Johnston said.
Downtown merchants in general encouraged shoppers to consider the “extras” of shopping in the Main Street District — personal service, free gift wrapping at many locations and finding “unique” items that can’t be found at regular stores.
Santa’s Workshop is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 to 5 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 16 in downtown Palestine. Admission is $5 per person and professional photos with Santa are available for $5 each. For more information, call 903-723-3014 or stop by the Palestine Main Street office located inside the Visitor Center at 825 W. Spring St.
The Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express™ rides are planned through Dec. 29.
Tickets are available by calling 888-987-2461 or visit www.EastTexasPolarExpressRide.com