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Black Friday deals draw shoppers on T-giving night

COVINGTON -- Bonnie and Alicia Gallops, Cherie Leonard and Michelle Knight had already shopped for hours, stopped to eat, gone home to take a nap and started up the shopping again by a little after 8 a.m. on Black Friday.

The women, all from Covington, were heading into Kohl's in Conyers to see what else they could find. They reported they'd started shopping about 12 hours before, having already made the rounds to Kmart and to Walmart, twice. "I was parked in the aisle with the buggy and they shopped and came to me," said Alicia Gallops.

Lines were so long at Kmart, the women gave up. For them, it's not just about the potential savings. Asked why they brave the crowds on Black Friday, they responded that, "It's family time" and "It's girl time."

Lines were much longer on Thanksgiving night, they reported, with crowds dissipating by mid-morning Friday. Shoppers were trickling in and out of Kohl's, Old Navy and Belk on Friday morning, most of the frenzy having passed.

Jamel Lashley of Covington said he arrived at Sears at The Mall at Stonecrest at 3 a.m. and about 50 cars were lined up outside the store to let shoppers out at the door for the 4 a.m. doorbuster. Lashley decided to take a nap in his car and reported that when he awoke, the line was even longer. He left without the washing machine he came for. Lines at Macy's, Foot Locker and Dillard's were long, meandering through racks of clothes, he said. Lashley said those shoppers closest to their destination -- the cash register -- were calm, while those in the back of the line seemed a bit agitated. None of the Black Friday shoppers polled by the Citizen reported aggressive behavior by shoppers.

But Taylor Collins wasn't taking any chances. "People are crazy," she said, of why she and her family decided not to head out on Thursday and instead waited until after 8 a.m. Friday to browse a few stores.

Nicky Stanley of Covington agreed. "My sleep was much more valuable" than fighting the crowds in the wee morning hours, he said. Stanley said he'd call it a day at around lunch, but mom Tracy and sister Heather said they'd likely make a day of shopping, although they weren't looking for anything specific, just browsing.

Black Friday, the day when retailers traditionally find out whether they turn a profit for the year, got a jump start this year as many stores opened just as families were finishing up Thanksgiving dinner. Stores are experimenting with ways to compete with online rivals like Amazon.com that can offer holiday shopping deals at any time and on any day. And this year, crowds gathered across the country as stores such as Target and Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving evening, while retailers from Macy's to Best Buy opened their doors at midnight on Black Friday.

About 17 percent of shoppers said earlier this month that they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey. Overall, it's estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year.

According to the National Retail Federation's holiday consumer spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, the average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and more, up slightly from the $740.57 they spent last year. NRF is forecasting holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion.

"We've seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "As the most promotional time of the year, retailers will continue to look for ways to stand out, specifically with attractive deals on toys, electronics and apparel, even well before the 'official' start of the holiday shopping season -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday."

According to the survey, the biggest portion of shoppers' budget this year will go toward gifts for family members with the average person planning to spend $421.82 on children, parents, aunt, uncles and more. Additionally, people will spend $75.13 on friends, $23.48 on co-workers and $28.13 on others, such as pets and community members. Consumers will also spend on food and candy, an average of $100.76, greeting cards, $28.66, and flowers, $19.55. When it comes to decorations, the average person will spend $51.99, up from $49.15 last year and the most in the survey's history. Total spending on holiday decor will reach $6.9 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.