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Attracting the crowds in tough economic times

For some families, Thanksgiving Day weekend may be more about holiday shopping than eating turkey. But for some retailers, the thought of having shoppers line up outside their shops on Black Friday may feel more like a dream than reality this year.

As tough economic times hit many American homes, some retailers accustomed to the high-volume profits of the day after Thanksgiving are implementing new ways of attracting customers to their shops while others are making minor adjustments for Black Friday.

"The bottom line is the purse strings have tightened a little bit and all the retailers are fighting for the same retail dollar this year," said Rick Dahle, owner of Cullen's Home Center in Willmar.

For some retailers, greater price reductions and extended sales periods are the trend for the upcoming holiday season.

Jennifer King, senior public relations manager for the northern division of The Home Depot, said in an e-mail her employer is extending its sales -- usually designed for Black Friday or sometime in December -- for longer periods during the holiday season.

One of those sales, she said, included a promotion for a free power tool after purchasing a power tool kit. Compared to running for only two weeks last year, the promotion opened earlier this month and will last until Dec. 24, King said.

Cullen's Home Center in Willmar will have a "Beat the Clock" sale that starts at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. Dahle said the sale's discount percentage will start at an all-time store high when the doors open and then gradually decrease -- through a tiered system -- during the rest of the day. Dahle said the price reductions this year are greater than those in 2007.

Cullen's also extended its holiday sales period by offering a 0 percent financing plan to customers in the weeks before Black Friday.

Although some retailers will offer more deals and extended sale periods, other local businesses are confident in the revenue possibilities of the upcoming holidays.

Todd Paffrath, owner of Paffrath & Son Jewelers in Willmar, said his store plans to "stay the course" and provide gift ideas for all price ranges like it has in the past.

Paffrath said the holiday season has usually been a premier month for jewelry stores, especially for engagement ring sales, and he doesn't expect that statistic to alter much this year.

"Jewelry is a very emotional item and Christmas is a very emotional time," Paffrath said. "It's the one time of the year that (customers) can step out and say 'hey, I'm going to do this for my wife to show her I love her.' And that's kind of what it's all about."

Paffrath & Son Jewelers will have its annual Black Friday promotion that offers the first 50 customers a selected, discounted piece of jewelry because "that has always gone over well" with customers, Paffrath said.

Ginny Knapp and Anita Stulen, co-owners of Mill Pond Mercantile in New London, said they expect more cautious customers this year, which requires them to analyze their prices more carefully.

Instead of focusing on discounts, Stulen said, Mill Pond Mercantile will emphasize the service aspects of their gift shop, such as providing a pleasant shopping experience and offering free gift-wrapping.

"We can see that people are a little more afraid this year to spend their money, but actually we haven't experienced a huge decline in business," Stulen said. "... I think the gift giving will be more practical this year, though. 'If they can eat it or wear it' is one of the jargons we've heard."

Ultimately, Dahle said, businesses preparing for the holidays hope consumers buy from local businesses instead of traveling elsewhere for holiday shopping.

"We're all depending on people to shop local," Dahle said. "We have such a diverse marketplace in Willmar, from locally owned to national-chain stores. We really hope that the trips to St. Cloud or the Mall of America are kept to a minimum."

Get a sneak peak at Black Friday deals

Sometimes finding the perfect holiday gift for that special someone can be an arduous task. Sometimes finding the best price for that perfect gift can be twice as difficult.

For many families, organizing a day-after-Thanksgiving game plan is the way to find the right present at the right price, but preparation can be tough when consumers don't have the annual Black Friday advertisements in-hand.

But no need to worry, bargain shoppers, below is a list of Web sites where consumers can prematurely view the ads for the biggest shopping day of the year.