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Holiday shopping kicks off
A-Black Friday pic1
Black Friday at the North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall had many shoppers camping out as early as 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon. The Battle family, pictured, were third in line at Kate Spade when the store opened at 6 p.m. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

Thanksgiving Day was the kickoff for holiday shopping season at the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville.

So said Heather Halpern, general manager of the shopping center, and longtime veteran of Black Friday sales.

"Our customers wait for these sales all year," Halpern said Nov. 24, as she prepared for the first wave of shoppers Thanksgiving evening.

The mall opened officially at 6 p.m., though many stores chose to open earlier.

Wilson Leather, for example, opened at 4:30 p.m.

The staff inside Wilson Leather was buzzing with energy while many stores, like the nearby Coach Outlet, stood empty while customers queued outside.

Yanira Fanfan, assistant manager at Wilson Leather, said she was excited about the long night in front of her.

"This is one of our favorite nights because of the adrenaline rush," Fanfan said. "Everyone is out looking for a great sale and everyone is so pumped all day, it's great."

Fanfan said that her store opened early and would remain open until the mall closed, or until people stopped showing up.

The outlets closed at 2 a.m. and opened again at 6 a.m. Friday morning, though a few stores chose to do their own thing and stay open all night long. Some stores, like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, didn't open at all until Friday morning.

The decision to allow stores the option to close at 2 a.m. is a new idea for the outlet stores.
"This is the first year we've closed at 2 a.m," Halpern said. "We've been looking at traffic patterns and decided that we should try it and see how it works out. You don't know until you try."

Halpern said the outlets similarly modified their schedule a few years ago when they first started opening the mall late in the evening on Thanksgiving instead of at midnight or early on Friday.

"We've opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving the past few years to meet the demand," Halpern said.

People certainly came out in droves on Thanksgiving, proving Halpern ‘s comment about customer demand right.

Coach had easily the longest line of any store at the mall on Thanksgiving, with a line that stretched from their store out to the parking lot.

The North Face, which is the only North Face outlet store in Georgia, had a line that rivaled Coach's, with a divider keeping shoppers from taking up too much of the sidewalk.

The lines continued into the night and some even into Friday morning. The purpose of the lines was to keep the store from overfilling their occupancy based on fire codes. The lines also served to maintain a first-come-first-serve function for many of the popular stores.

The line outside Kate Spade was another one of the more popular lines at the mall.

One family, the Battles, got in line outside Kate Spade around 4:30 p.m. and were the third in line. They were still standing there when the store opened at 6 p.m. to admit them.

Their game plan was to hit up Kate Spade, then Cabi, Lucky Brand Jeans, Vera Bradley, UGG and American Eagle for starters, according to Beth Battle, who stood in line with her daughter Lucy Battle, her sister-in-law Tina, her niece Hannah and her mother-in- law Dorenda.

Tina and Hannah had traveled from Texas to visit Beth and Lucy, who live in Cumming. Dorenda also came to town to visit from Dothan, Ala.

"We just moved to Cumming this year, so this is our first year shopping Black Friday at the outlets," Beth Battle said. "We don't have a strategy, and Tina is the only Black Friday Queen, because she goes every year. We're just going to make the most of it and have fun."

The huge crowds meant that parking was, in Halpern's words, organized chaos.

Finding a good spot depended solely on luck, as shopper cars on Thanksgiving and Black Friday easily filled up the parking lot and the parking lots of nearby shopping centers, and squeezed in next to each other on hillsides, jumping curbs and parking illegally in fire lanes.

Some people even parked as far away as the Walmart shopping center, which was having it's own Black Friday event.

People lined up inside the store as early as noon to get their chance to score great deals on electronics, toys and home goods.

Jadin Cronan and Amber Patterson, 15-year-old students at Dawson County High School, were loading their full carts into their family vehicles in the Walmart parking lot around 7 p.m., just an hour after the retail giant's Black Friday madness began.

"I got here at 2 p.m.," Cronan said. "I waited in line for an hour and a half for a Minnie Mouse bed set for my little sister."

Cronan also had many other items in her cart, like a giant teddy bear, two drones, a laptop and a DVD player.

"This is only my second year shopping Black Friday," Cronan said. "I don't really like it. There are too many people, and I sat in line so long my legs went numb."

North Georgia Premium Outlets Holiday Hours:

Stores will be open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday up until Dec. 19 when stores remain open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Dec. 23.

On Christmas Eve, the mall will be open for the last-minute, panicked shoppers from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.