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Last weekend, Americans living in Europe enthusiastically celebrated what has become a de facto national holiday: the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree.

In Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores in Germany and England, sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were robust, topping last year’s sales by 13 percent. The increase echoed trends stateside: According to a report by the National Retail Federation, American consumers spent nearly 19 percent more this Thanksgiving weekend as they did last year. According to a survey by the retail group, the average holiday shopper spent $360.15 over the weekend, versus $302.81 last year.

For many Americans, the all-day shop fest — which signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season — has become as much of a ritual as turkey and pumpkin pie. American stores in the States and Europe were flooded the day after Thanksgiving, in an event that’s become widely known as “Black Friday.”

Unlike most shopping outlets in the States, AAFES outlets were open Thanksgiving Day. This year, sales on Thanksgiving Day jumped 7 percent over last year, according to figures released by AAFES.

The increase in sales in AAFES stores in Germany was offset by troop reductions in Hanau and Würzburg. As in the States, Friday was the busiest of the four holiday weekend days for Europe-based shoppers, said AAFES spokeswoman Debbie Byerly.

AAFES anticipated the sales flurry by offering sales, bargains and $20 gift cards to the first 100 shoppers at each store.

Brian Thomas, NEXCOM’s European District Operations Specialist, said holiday weekend sales exceeded last year’s totals on all three days and were up a combined 22.9 percent for the weekend.

Friday was the highest day of sales at $1,127,477 — 13.5 percent ahead of last year. Saturday, saw $722,254 in sales, a 28.8 percent above 2005’s total. Sunday brought $456,677 in sales — 42.1 percent ahead of last year.

European shoppers followed similar trends as their American counterparts, buying electronics, toys, jewelry and sale items. Also like their American cousins, Europe-based consumers lined up before dawn in some locations, camping out in line — even bringing sleeping bags — at England’s RAF Lakenheath store.

In Germany, AAFES Europe Sgt. Maj. Constance Szelap got in on the action herself, buying three televisions, a laptop computer, a computer system and a DVD player.

“I wanted to buy more, but thought I should leave a few items for the other shoppers,” she said, via e-mail.

John Goodwin, assistant store manager for the Vogelweh BXtra PowerZone, said his store was flooded with shoppers of all stripes — servicemembers, spouses, children and retirees, many of whom came early to get their shopping fix.

“When I pulled up with my car, we already had lines outside,” he said. “At 5 o’clock.”

Customers were friendly and orderly, he said, and jumped at daily specials offering discounts on laptops, computers, hard drives and other electronic items. Apple iPod mp3 players sold out in the first day, he said. Among the brightly colored iPod Nano models, the electric-blue model flew off shelves first. The Shrek-green model, conversely, sold out at a slower pace.

At AAFES stores in Europe, popular toys included “Dora the Explorer” merchandise, My Little Pony figures and those old chestnuts: Barbie dolls and Lego sets.

But unlike their American cousins, Europe-based shoppers made do without the frenzy-inducing Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii game systems, which debuted in the States earlier this month but have yet to appear on European shelves. The popular game systems, which cost between $249 and $599, depending on the model, will soon appear in AAFES stores, albeit in very limited quantities, — as few as 10 of each model per store — Goodwin said. Shoppers will become eligible to buy them by entering a lottery. Customers can register for the lottery at AAFES stores.

Their arrival — whenever it happens — is sure to create another spike in holiday spending. Byerly assured that they will be in stores in time to make it under the tree.

“They will be here before Christmas, we know that,” she said.

Stars and Stripes’ Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.


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