BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Retail experts are predicting a strong holiday shopping season in the Dakotas despite a summer of drought, a forecast bolstered by long lines at stores in major cities throughout the two states on Black Friday and even earlier.
Some stores opened on Thanksgiving, with many shoppers waiting at the doors to get in. Rebecca Kari, of Belle Fourche, snagged the first spot in line at a Sears store in Rapid City, S.D., on Thursday morning.
"We're going to remember this long before we'd remember eating turkey at home," she told the Rapid City Journal.
Crowds that gathered outside stores in the early morning hours of Friday endured chilly weather, with temperatures mainly in the teens.
"We're nuts," Ashley Gaddis joked to KOKK radio outside a Kmart in Huron, S.D. But she encouraged others to take part in the holiday shopping tradition, saying, "Put your gloves on, get out there."
In Fargo, North Dakota's largest city, bargain hunters dealt with the cold and also a couple of inches of fresh snow that fell Thursday.
College student Lincoln Mousel and his two roommates dealt with the elements inside a tent they had set up outside a Best Buy store entrance on Tuesday night. The roommates and a friend they made waiting in line huddled under a pile of sleeping bags and blankets to keep warm.
"The experience is absolutely terrible," Mousel told The Forum newspaper.
Black Friday is named because it traditionally was the day when crowds would push stores into the black, or profitability.
Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Retail Association, told The Associated Press that he expects holiday sales in the state to be up 5-6 percent over last year.
"We continue to have record years in energy (production). The agriculture sector had one of its best years ever in North Dakota," he said. "I would think there would be some disposable income out there."
North Dakota's economy is bolstered by the booming western oil patch. Stores also draw shoppers from Canada. Rud said the fact that North Dakota State University might host as many as three football playoff games also could mean big shopping weekends in Fargo as fans flock to the city for the games.
North Dakota and South Dakota this year also did not have the widespread severe flooding the two states experienced in 2011.
"We've seen very good increases in sales tax (over 2011) and we would expect that to translate into the holidays, as well," Shawn Lyons, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, told the AP.
Lyons predicts an increase in holiday sales over the year of 3-7 percent in South Dakota, saying farmers had a strong year despite that fact that many areas suffered through drought.
"I think producers feel pretty good about where they're at right now," he said. "Hopefully that translates onto Main Street."