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Hospitality industry readying to get swamped on Black Friday

Even the most zealous shoppers need a break on Black Friday to refuel with coffee and food, or to get their hair done.

That’s when businesses in the hospitality industry step in, opening their doors to serve customers who take a time out from buying the latest gadgets and trendy apparel on the national shopping day.

In Massena, a hot spot for hungry shoppers is Vino Vidi Vici, an Italian restaurant owned by Tarek and Crista M. Makdouli at the Harte Haven Shopping Plaza.

Mrs. Makdouli said she recommends that customers make reservations for the restaurant, which is flanked by T.J. Maxx, because it otherwise could be a challenge to find a table.

The restaurant is a major draw for Canadians who cross the border to shop in Massena, Mrs. Makdouli said.

“I would say they account for about 40 to 50 percent of our business on Black Friday,” she said. “They’re looking for a meal after they shop. And we always find that we’ll have a bunch of guys come in while their wives are shopping at T.J. Maxx. The husbands are looking for a nice lounge to crash at.”

Mrs. Makdouli estimated that business at the restaurant, open for nearly three years, has climbed by about 15 percent on Black Friday compared with a typical Friday.

And Vino Vidi Vici isn’t alone in the shopping-season buzz.

Dunkin’ Donuts, 1250 Arsenal St., Watertown, will open at 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving and stay open until midnight Saturday, keeping the same hours that were established last year to capitalize on the earlier shopping trend, manager Colleen Precourt said. The special hours are available only at the franchise’s Arsenal Street location because it draws the most Black Friday traffic, she said.

“We’ll have nine employees here the whole time,” Ms. Precourt said.

Five people work at the doughnut shop during a typical shift.

“We’re going to be ready,” she said.

Employee Isabella K. Keenan, who worked at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Black Friday last year, said the drive-thru lane that wraps around the store was jammed “all day long.”

To accommodate longer lines, traffic flows into the neighboring parking lot used by Pearle Vision, she said.

“On a normal day you can tell when there are spurts of traffic, but you can’t know that on Black Friday because it never stops,” she said, adding that “copious” amounts of coffee, sandwiches and boxes of doughnuts are sold that day.

Several big-box retailers will kick off the Christmas shopping season on Thanksgiving night, two or more hours earlier than they did last year.

Some shoppers might even adjust their dinner plans to wait in line at J.C. Penney, Sears, Kohl’s, Target and other stores.

Vina A. Bonner of Watertown said she’ll be hunting for a 70-inch smart television at Best Buy in Salmon Run Mall on Thanksgiving after her 10-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son go to sleep.

“I might buy one of the new curved TVs,” she said. “I think the savings will be great.”

Meanwhile, the Kmart off Arsenal Street will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving, which it started doing in 2010. Walmart on Arsenal Street will remain open 24 hours, but its best doorbuster deals will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on the holiday itself. The retailer also has locations in Evans Mills, Lowville, Ogdensburg, Potsdam and Massena.

As a matter of principle, Watertown resident Darlene D. Sheitz said she has never shopped on Thanksgiving to get deals. She said she might this year, though, because a Samsung smart tablet she wants for $50 at Best Buy could be sold out by Friday.

“I don’t want to be in stores on Thanksgiving, but I might have to,” she said. “If stores are going to open on Thursday, why are they still calling it Black Friday?”

The people who shop on Black Friday, waiting in the long lines to pay for their deals, also could have a wait for meals.

The line at Panera Bread on Towne Center Drive, Watertown, usually extends from the counter to the entrance on Black Friday, manager John H. Dillenback said. The fast-casual restaurant will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. after opening at 3 a.m. on that day in previous years.

“We didn’t get the sales we expected at 3 a.m. last year, and I think it’s because people are shopping on Thanksgiving and then getting out later on Friday morning,” he said. “About 9 a.m. is when we really start to see the traffic flow.”

From the customers’ perspective, Mr. Dillenback said, the restaurant strikes an appealing balance between fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s and sit-down establishments such as TGI Fridays. Customers can order a cup of coffee and quickly fill it themselves using dispensers at the restaurant, which seats about 250 people.

Plus, Panera’s location, next to large retailers, helps make it a quick-hit destination for shoppers, Mr. Dillenback said. The restaurant is flanked by the likes of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Kohl’s and Target.

“It’s busy here all day long and doesn’t stop, but we keep the line moving,” he said, adding that about 30 employees will work the Black Friday shift.

Shopping breaks don’t just involve food and beverages, though.

Groups of women often get their hair done on Black Friday at Supercuts on Towne Center Drive, manager Elizabeth Shampoe said. She said the business, which opened during the spring of 2013, is expected to lure more shoppers this year because more people know where it is.

Though the store will hold normal hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Black Friday, all six of its hairdressers will work the shift — up from two on a regular day.

“Usually at about 11 a.m., it starts to get really busy because people have been shopping all day and want a break to have their hair cut and dry-ironed,” Ms. Shampoe said.

Not all businesses, however, have benefited from the recent trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving instead of the early morning on Black Friday.

In Lewis County, Lloyd’s of Lowville, a diner on South State Street, used to get barnstormed with shoppers when it opened at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast, manager Melissa A. Zehr said. But she said most shoppers now go home to sleep after doing their shopping earlier on Thanksgiving night.

“People used to run up to Walmart at 3 o’clock in the morning, and as soon as they were done shopping they would come here and eat on their way home before going to bed,” Mrs. Zehr said. “But now they don’t need to wait in line to do that. We’re still busy on Black Friday, but it’s not like it used to be.”

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer