Pacific exchanges ring up record sales

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 30, 2003

Thousands of shoppers crowded into Pacific base exchanges early Friday morning looking for deals on Christmas gifts.

At least one shopper arrived by 3 a.m. at the Camp Foster exchange on Okinawa. But business boomed throughout the day at most Pacific exchanges as customers poured in for sales on electronics and jewelry.

Another factor played into the Friday rush: Holiday mailing deadlines for gifts to reach the United States loom and many shoppers wanted to get presents wrapped, packed and shipped in time for arrival before Christmas.

At many Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores, early customers received 10-percent-off coupons good for any one item. Some exchanges — the majority of which opened at 7 a.m. — also had other discounts available.

For example, shoppers turning out in pajamas at the Yokota Air Base, Japan, exchange also received a coupon for 20 percent off any one item.

Many families came in full force, with each member getting discount coupons.

Dental assistant Val Gadingan brought several relatives with him from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, to the Yokota exchange.

“The more the merrier,” the petty officer second class said as family member Erwin Diano pushed two fully loaded carts into the checkout area. “This might just be getting us started.”

Gadingan said he was lucky to get two carts — most late-arriving shoppers couldn’t even get one.

DVD players were hot-ticket items at AAFES and Navy Exchange stores.

“The price is too good to pass up,” said Danielle Turner of Yokota as she grabbed a DVD player from one of three large pallets.

“We sold about 700 of the DVD players,” Yokota exchange acting general manager Ken Limtiaco said late Friday.

DVD players were also selling like hot cakes at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Yokosuka Naval Base and Camp Zama in Japan, and Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

Kadena exchange manager Maryann Bishop said thousands of shoppers went through her store Friday.

“There were about 1,000 people in line when the store opened. And by 11 a.m., about 1,200 people had gone through the checkout lines,” Bishop said. “The most popular items so far are the Coby DVD player and the JVC television.”

Foster exchange manager Brett Buckley said roughly 800 people were in line there prior to its 7 a.m. opening. By 11 a.m., 1,500 people had made purchases.

The most popular items: DVD players and JVC digital cameras, he said.

Limtiaco said 390 people were in line before the store opened at 7 a.m. The earliest shopper was outside the store’s door at 5:30 a.m.

“Our prices were right,” Limtiaco said, noting the percentage of clothing, electronics (not counting the DVD players), jewelry and other items sold were approximately the same.

Shoppers generally spent between $200 and $1,200 Friday, with an average from $300 to $500, he said.

Exchanges stayed crowded throughout the day, although most had yet to tally customer numbers.

That wasn’t lost on Yokota’s Latesha Figaro, who was shocked by the massive turnout there.

“I’ve never seen this many people in here before,” she said.

The scene was repeated throughout Pacific exchanges where long checkout lines and full shopping carts made it evident the Christmas shopping season was in full swing.

“I felt kind of silly getting up so early to come shopping,” said Sgt. Theresa Randle of Yongsan Garrison. “But when I saw some of the sales and saw how quickly the stuff was going out the door, I was glad I came.”

By midday Friday, many shelves of popular items — movies and CDs included — showed gaping holes where shoppers had cleaned out swaths.

“It was one of the biggest days we’ve ever had,” said Dennis Patton, the sales and merchandise manager of Camp Zama’s exchange. “Today was a huge success.”

Patton said the store experienced “record-breaking” sales Friday, and expected more Saturday and Sunday.

“By 7:15 a.m., the store was so packed you couldn’t even move around,” he said. “We’re ready for [more customers] as the sales continue.”

The big sales also meant swarming customers at Yokosuka.

Rusty Rausch, the Navy Exchange’s Japan District Merchandise Manager at Yokosuka, said Friday marked the first time in store history that customers were in the aisles at 6 a.m.

“I was amazed at the number,” she said, noting customer figures were not immediately available. “I am thoroughly pleased. I think we will at least tie last year’s sales, if not beat them.”

Patton felt Friday was a fantastic way to kick off this year’s holiday shopping season.

“This sets a good tone,” he said.

“It exceeded what we thought it would be,” Limtiaco added.

— Fred Zimmerman, Joseph Giordono and Roger Harnack contributed to this report.