Based on Walls' asphalt assessment and evaluations from his boss and the managers at half a dozen other Danville stores, the reports of a national economy on the rebound reverberated around this little slice of the retail marketplace this morning on this, the traditional kickoff of the Christmas shopping season.
"According to the tracking we've done this morning, I'd say sales the first two hours (after Wal-Mart's sale began at 6 a.m.) this year are 15 percent ahead of last year, and the first two hours last year were very strong and ahead of the year before," said Walton, no relation to Wal-Mart's founding family.
The doors to Danville's largest store were open all morning, and customers started arriving in numbers as early as 2 a.m.
"They started jockeying for position for the sales to start at 6," Walton said.
When 6 a.m. arrived, he said, the crowd of shoppers in the store had built up to more than 2,000 people, and they went to work quickly, filling up their carts with such sale items as 20-inch television sets and DVD players.
"Within 15 minutes of the time the sale started, we sold more than 700 DVD players" that were on sale for about $30 each, he said. Overall, electronics and small appliances were the most popular items in the store this morning, he said.
The scene was almost as chaotic at Kmart, according to manager Jacquie Williams, who was roaming the store looking for an empty shopping cart. All of the carts were in use at 8 a.m.; the store opened for business at 6 a.m.
"More than 150 people were standing in the rain outside the doors when we opened them at 6," said Williams.
The first 100 shoppers were given cash cards, and Williams said one of the shoppers won $100 and three won $50. Kmart shoppers also were lured by several sales, including one where 70 percent was taken off the price of all jewelry items.
"We've sold a lot of jewelry and also a lot of electronics, but we've also sold a variety of other items, from housewares to clothing," Williams said. "All in all, I'd say we may be doing better in the early going than a year ago. Last year, the rush was over by now (8 a.m.) and the crowd had dwindled; but, as you can see, the number of shoppers has remained steady - as steady as that cold rain outside."
Things also were hopping at JCPenney, where clothing sales were attracting a large number of early shoppers to the store, which opened at 6 a.m.
"Overall, business has been very positive," said manager Tom Duckworth. "More than 100 people were at our doors when they opened, and traffic has been fairly steady. I think we're doing a little better so far than last year, and last year's opening day was strong.
The "hottest" items at JCPenney were warm weather jackets, Duckworth said.
"We have men's and women's leather jackets, regular price $200, on sale today and Saturday for $59.99 each," he said. "They're selling very well."
An indication of a healthier economy
Several store managers said they believe the strong Christmas business today is an indication of a healthier economy. They won support for their argument from the people who were doing their part this morning fueling the recovery, at least of the retail sector of the economy.
"I think the economy is better than it was last year. At least it's sure better in our household," said Shellie Luttrell of Casey County, who was loading up her van outside Wal-Mart SuperCenter with a television set, DVD player and stereo. "We have some extra money to spend on Christmas, and I'm trying to make up for last year when we didn't spend as much on the kids as I would've liked to.
"We've got to be Santa for six kids, and we have to stretch our dollars. This year, we have more dollars to stretch," Luttrell said.
Wanda Patton of Harrodsburg had stretched both her wallet and her legs by the time she arrived at Kmart at 8 a.m. She already had bought a lot of merchandise at the Wal-Mart in her hometown and at Big Lots in Danville.