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Holiday shopping off to strong start this season

POSTED: December 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The Christmas shopping season is off to a rousing start at North Georgia Premium Outlets, which drew large crowds hunting deals and discounts over the Thanksgiving weekend.

  

And officials are hoping for more of the same as the holidays approach.

  

“They have a huge parking lot,” Dawson County Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Wooten said of the mall. “It’ll be pretty packed for the next few weeks up until Christmas.”

  

Don Kimbel, one of several off-duty sheriff’s deputies officers hired to work at the mall over the weekend, had little to report.

  

“Everything’s gone pretty smoothly this year,” Kimbel said.

  

For the fourth year, many stores at the outlet mall opened their doors Thanksgiving night for a day of shopping that continued until 10 p.m. Friday.

  

By midnight, all of the 4,000 parking places at the mall were taken, and customers were parking on the grass and alongside Ga. 400. Traffic coming north from the Atlanta area was backed up for more than a mile.

  

Heather Rittner, general manager at North Georgia Premium Outlets, compared Midnight Madness to the “Super Bowl of shopping.”

  

“The customer expects it and our retailer wants it,” she said. “Our first stores opened by 9 p.m. and sales are great.”

  

Shoppers like Jessica Mason of Murrayville were looking for bargains as early as 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

  

“I’m looking for anything on sale,” Mason said. “Toys, jeans, purses, shoes, just about everything.”

  

She said it would take steeper discounts of 40 percent or more to get her attention.

  

Once again, the Coach store attracted the largest crowd.

  

Last year, shoppers broke down the door, scrambling for bargains when the high-end store opened.

  

Thursday, a line of about 200 waited patiently for the chance to enter Coach.

  

Donna Gooden of Sugar Hill and her sister, Cheryl Minard of Portsmouth, N.H., bought Coach purses as Christmas gifts for each other.

  

“In New Hampshire, we’d never find lines like this at a Coach place,” Minard said.

  

Janet Still was among those waiting a turn to go inside Coach. On her arm, she carried a Coach bag from a previous shopping outing.

  

“I think I’m going to find an excellent deal, plus I’ve got a coupon in my pocket for an extra 10 percent,” said Still, who drove from the Gwinnett County town of Grayson.

  

At KB Toys outlet, the hot sellers were remote control cars and night vision goggles.

  

“I’m looking to see what kind of deals I can find on toys for my grandchild,” said Karen Hill of Atlanta.

  

Many experts had predicted gloom as retailers prepared for the busiest shopping day of the season, but early reports indicate shopper spending was up 7.2 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

  

Federation figures show shoppers spent an average of $372.57 over the long weekend, up 7.2 percent over last year’s $347.55, with total spending reaching an estimated $41 billion.

  

According to the federation’s 2008 Black Friday Weekend survey, more than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over the weekend, up from 147 million shoppers last year.

  

“Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season’s hottest items helped drive shopping all weekend,” said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive officer of the federation.

  

As expected, many shoppers (50.9 percent) purchased clothing and accessories, while 39 percent bought books, compact discs, DVDs and video games. Nearly 36 percent purchased consumer electronics.

  

Toys were also big sellers, as 28.5 percent of shoppers bought a toy.

  

Gift card purchasing dropped 10 percent with 18.7 percent of shoppers purchasing a gift card over the weekend, down from 21 percent last year.

  

The potential closings of several highly visible department and specialty stores in the region may have led to the decline in the number of gift cards sold this year, according to local economists.  

  

“Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again,” Mullin said.

  

Harris Blackwood contributed to this report.

  

E-mail Michele Hester at michele@dawsonnews.com.

 

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