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'Every hour counts for us' - Black Friday busy in Bemidji

Packed parking lots, long lines inside and out of stores and a festive spirit greeted shoppers in Bemidji on Black Friday.

When Walmart started its specials for the largest shopping day of the year - sales started at 10 p.m. Thursday - cars filled the parking lot. Two hours later, customers lined up at the doors to get inside Target and Herberger's, where the parking lot mirrored that of the big retailers to the west.

Herberger's and the other two anchors at Paul Bunyan Mall - Kmart and JC Penney - saw brisk business throughout the day with customers lured into the stores with specials published Thursday in the Bemidji Pioneer.

Mike Beard, the store manager at JC Penney, said his store saw a wave of customers from 3 to 6 a.m. Friday, with 200 waiting when the doors opened, followed by a second wave at 8 a.m. By early Friday afternoon, he expected another wave as the store staggered its deals to lure customers inside.

"I'm real happy with the turnout," Beard said. "We do as much in an hour today as we do in an entire day on a normal day. Every hour counts for us."

Beard said it was too early to compare to last year's Black Friday's sales, but he said the weather played into the store's favor as people drove from around the region to shop.

And the big item that drew people into the store?

Waffle makers.

Beard said the store repeated its feat from Black Friday 2010 by selling all 200 of its waffle makers, which were priced at $9.99.

"The rest of the world has caught on to waffle mania," he said.

Over at Target, store manager Curt Blumhagen said home electronics proved to be big sellers.

Turnout for the store, which opened at Thursday midnight instead of 4 a.m. like last year, appeared to be as good as ever.

"The guests seem to really like it," Blumhagen said of the midnight opening. "I think it's the excitement of getting out... I think more than anything it's become an event."

And over at Kmart, it was Black Friday as usual. Shoppers filled the Paul Bunyan Mall parking lot with cars as they looked to buy this year's specials.

"Busy. It's a pretty typical Black Friday," Tim Hayen, store manager at Kmart, said Friday afternoon.

While the store was open on Thanksgiving Day, Hayen said there were more than 400 people in line when doors re-opened at 5 a.m. Friday.

"Most in the five years I've been here," Hayen said.

Smaller shops, many of them locally owned, are hoping for a strong showing today, which is known as Small Business Saturday. The national effort, now in its second year, encourages shoppers to purchase items from local store owners on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.