By the time Mike Sweeney opened his Soldotna clothing store at 9 a.m. Friday morning, deeply discounted holiday shopping had been going on for more than 24 hours on the Kenai Peninsula.
The night before, several hundred people crowded into the central aisles of Kenai’s Wal-Mart, waiting for 6 and 8 p.m. sales that carried Black Friday shopping over into what some are calling Grey Thursday when retailers open on Thanksgiving Day.
While other chain stores opened early on Friday — a Fred Meyer sock sale that began at 5 a.m. also drew several hundred bargain-minded shoppers to Soldotna — Sweeney, and other local businesses said they offered something different than larger retailers.
“They come here for more quality,” Sweeney said as he gestured at a showroom full of Smart Wool, Columbia and Carhartt products.
He’s opened earlier in previous years, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. but did not realize a significant change in the amount of business done despite the earlier hours.
“9 a.m. works because we’re a bit different,” he said. “Nobody is complaining, especially not the employees.”
The first fifty people who walked into Sweeney’s were given gift cards for a free coffee at The Daily Buzz, a coffee stand sitting just across the Kenai Spur Highway.
Sweeney said he was out of the cards within 35 minutes of opening and had seen about 500 people by mid-afternoon.
Just down the block, Brian Beeson and his manager Brad Carver at Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft said they had seen several hundred people as well.
At 2 p.m. Friday, there were a handful of people looking through skiing and snowboarding gear.
A larger group in the variety shop below the loft looked through art supplies, holiday decorations and housewares.
The Bike and Ski Loft offered 10 percent off on a lot of its merchandise alongside incentives like half-off ski waxing and rentals.
Carver said most of what had been sold Friday morning was skiing packages, but the deals — like those at Sweeney’s — lasted through the weekend.
Also flying off Carver’s shelves were Skhoops, a popular cold-weather skirt.
“Elementary teacher’s love these,” Carver said. “They’re perfect for recess duty.”
At least three indoor bazaars offered local arts and crafts, and “fair trade” items for Kenai Peninsula residents, several of whom made a circuit of the stores and craft fairs.
Sales continued at Wal-Mart on Saturday and the parking lot stayed full, shoppers also stopped by Kenai Central High School and the Challenger Center for craft fairs.
The Kenai Fine Art Guild’s Craft Fair kicked off with dozens of vendors spilling out of the gymnasium, down the hallways and into the foyer in front of the school’s auditorium.
The building was awash in smells, from artisanal soaps and treats, to freshly made popcorn, perfumes and warm, carved wood.
As hundreds of people wondered in and out of the booths, local vendors offered handmade jewelry, furs and Alaska-grown food.
At the Soldotna United Methodist Church on S. Binkley in Soldotna, the annual Ten Thousand Villages Fair Trade sale offered handmade goods from all over the world.
Several volunteers, including Susie Smalley, walked through the room restocking tiny statues, baskets, musical instruments and scarves for people as the tables were cleared.
“We’re having a great day,” Smalley said with a wide smile. “Very few people don’t know what fair trade is anymore. When we first started we had to educate everybody. Now we have the best shoppers.”
Several of the crafts came from the Philippines this year, Smalley said the availability of items and country of origin changes from year to year.
“Some of these things you could get at Pier 1 cheaper, but you don’t know how they got them,” Smalley said.
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org