"I think if you're not a big store, it hurts if you don't already have personnel in place," Armstrong said Friday, Nov. 26, of opening ultra-early for door-busting sales.
While large retailers can afford to hire additional staff to accommodate masses of bargain-hunters scouting extreme deals on big-screen TVs, digital cameras, cell phones, appliances and game consoles, Armstrong relies on family to help her.
Behind the counter, 15-year-old granddaughter, Alicia Speaight, stood ready to assist customers with questions about their cell phones or satellite dishes, while her sister, Autumn, 12, demonstrated a pink robotic toy penguin. The girls' nine-year-old brother, Jevin, passed the time with a handheld game machine as he waited for customers to arrive.
Used as a prediction of holiday spending, the day after Thanksgiving has for most of the past 10 years been the heaviest shopping day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, a national company that follows economic activity.
The busiest shopping day used to be the Saturday before Christmas. Big-box retailers, such as Best Buy and Walmart, through drastic sales of limited-availability merchandise, pushed Black Friday to the lead in the 2000s, ShopperTrak stated in an online press release.
The phenomenon has created a day of chaos-buying in large urban stores, with customers often lining up to spend their money more than a day in advance of posted sale times.
Oregon County's sole Walmart, in Thayer, opened at 10 Thanksgiving night, allowing customers two hours to line up inside before the midnight sale of Nintendo Wii game machines, board games, electronic guitars and electric pancake griddles. Laptop computers and 32-inch high-definition TVs went on sale at 5 a.m. Friday.
Local store managers directed media questions to Walmart's corporate headquarters, which did not have specific information on Thayer shopping results.
Oregon County Treasurer Kim Hollis said checkout lines in the Thayer Walmart at 2 p.m. Friday were longer than she had ever seen them. Many customers had TVs in their shopping carts.
"One man had three of the large TVs," Hollis said. "All that sales tax revenue is good for the county."
Although the county has not yet received its December sales tax income from the state, Hollis said Oregon County has been faring better than many Missouri counties.
With most counties reporting a drop in sales tax, Oregon County had a slight gain the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2009. Since July, the county netted about $9,500 more in sales tax than it did a year earlier, according to a sales tax chart Hollis provided.
Compared to large chain-stores, Black Friday shopping at mom-and-pop stores in smaller towns is generally tame as many shoppers flock to metropolitan areas or use the Internet to find bargains.
Up and down Mammoth Spring's Main Street early Friday, traffic was sparse. Radio Shack was the only retail store open just after daylight.
Armstrong, in business there seven years, had opened at 5:30 a.m. in the past. Shoppers lined the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open, but then quickly bought the advertised sale items and left.
This year, Armstrong opened at 7:30 a.m.
"We choose not to get into the frenzy," she said, adding that outrageous price cuts also do not generate any income for small retailers.
Across the state line in Thayer, customer traffic varied, with Fin to Fur Wholesale reporting brisk sales upon opening at 5:30 a.m. which tapered off within an hour. About 10 shoppers were in the store at 7:45 a.m.
Sales clerk Blain Cartwell said the store, which opened in September, sold several large-ticket items -- deer feeders and motion-activated trail cameras -- in the first few minutes after opening.
Fin to Fur customer Sheri Lewis said she has never ventured out as early for Black Friday bargains before, but came on the advice of a friend.
"I usually wait for yard sales," Lewis said as she paid for a silk camouflage nightie.
Across Route 63, Game Time owner Gene Martin had not served a single customer 90 minutes after opening his sports equipment store at 6:30 a.m.
Black Friday marked Martin's one-year anniversary in the store. He said it may be his only year in business.
Turning a profit just two months this year (April and August), Martin is considering closing in January 2011 if December is also a losing month.
"It's sad," Martin said. "I put a lot into this place just to get it opened up."
Martin, a retired machinist who moved to Thayer from Cleveland two years ago, said he wished people understood the importance of buying from local vendors so sales tax benefits the city and county.
"Instead, people jump in their cars and drive 25 miles to spend $20," Martin said.
National sales average
ShopperTrak reports an average Black Friday sales increase of .3 percent, or about $30 million more than last year. Regionally, the Northeast led the way with a 1.7-percent retail sales rise over 2009, followed by the Midwest (up 0.4 percent), West (flat) and South (down .03 percent).
Foot traffic increased 2.2 percent, which indicates consumers are more closely following sales and spending more wisely, the company reported.