By Lauren Dantella
Point Park News Service
GROVE CITY, Pa. — From the surprising success of their first midnight opening to hiring extra help for one busy night, this Mercer County outlet mall is seeing thousands of visitors every Black Friday thanks to a unique idea that has caught on all over.
Grove City Premium Outlets put a twist on the “Black Friday” experience to create a unique night of shopping that has drawn costumers from across the globe. Now on its sixth year of “Midnight Madness,” the outlet stores prepare for their biggest shopping day of the year by catching the early crowd.
Michelle Czerwinski, Assistant General Manager of the outlets, said Grove City Premium Outlets was the first retailer in Western Pennsylvania to start the trend of opening at midnight on Black Friday, or the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Keeping in mind people who work on this day, organizers came up with the idea to open the night before to give everyone equal access to best deals of the year, said Czerwinski. They held their first “Midnight Madness” on Black Friday of 2006 with low expectations of the turnout.
“We did not know what to anticipate, we felt potentially that we were just going to be reading magazines or something,” said Czerwinski, who chuckled in retrospect.
The event drew 25,000 shoppers, and backed up traffic on Interstate 79 for miles in both directions. State police responded to the back up and now help direct traffic every year, said Czerwinski.
“The first thing we learned was, wow, people really do love shopping at midnight. […] It was just beyond anyone’s expectations,” said Czerwinski.
Due to the success, the outlets continued the event the following year, adding overflow parking in a nearby Hovis Auto Supply lot and allowing some stores to open earlier to avoid the rush.
The 3,000 parking spots in their lot usually fill up around 11:30 p.m. to 12 a.m., said Czerwinski. Shoppers will then be directed to a satellite lot where school buses from New Castle Area School District are used as shuttles to the outlets. To make the experience more enjoyable, this year the Tommy Hilfiger store will be providing hot chocolate, coffee, and tea to those who must park in the separate lot.
Many stores are preparing with plenty of staff. The Bath and Body Works store even prepares by recruiting friends and family for help on the big day, said Chloe Wiley, a holiday manager at the store.
“We hired 80 people, we use family and friends hired specifically for it,” said Wiley. “But they get to help out and it’s just fun for everyone.”
Bath and Body Works along with 43 other stores will be opening at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving day, 33 stores will be opening at 10 p.m., and the rest will open at 12 a.m.
The Vanity Fair Outlet will also be opening at 9 p.m. to welcome bus tours that sometimes come as far away as Canada, said Rhonda Geiwitz, store manager at Vanity Fair.
“We like to be one of the first to open so when the buses come in they don’t pull up to an empty store,” said Geiwitz. “We give everyone a shopping bag with coupons in it to welcome them and we give the bus drivers a free pair of jeans.”
The outlets sees shoppers from all parts of the world who are in town for business or visiting family and take advantage of the American shopping holiday. Many Canadians come to the outlets on Black Friday just to enjoy the deals, says Czerwinski.
“[Canadians] are the first ones here at 9 o’clock,” said Czerwinski. “Some of them have, in the past, went to restaurants in the area to do the traditional American Thanksgiving meal, just to make it more fun, but they know it’s the sharpest prices for the holiday season.”
Black Friday in the United States is particularly attractive for Canadian shoppers because American brands, though popular, are much more expensive in Canada and most clothing is free of tax in the U.S., said Czerwinski.
Czerwinski expects a very large turnout with stores opening even earlier than last year.
A listing of Black Friday store hours and specials are available on their website, www.premiumoutlets.com/grovecity.