By 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night, there wasn’t a parking space to be found in the parking lot of the North Georgia Premium Outlets.
Drivers created makeshift spaces at the end of rows, on curbs and in nearby, empty shopping centers. Circumventing the mall would take thirty minutes at least- traffic stopped dead wherever shoppers were seen taking bags back to cars.
Three women outside the UGG Australia outlet on Nov. 23 stood in line for fifteen minutes before they were able to enter the store. Parking, they said, had taken over half an hour.
“I always shop here around Christmas time, but I’ve never been here on Black Friday,” said Deanna Dammond, 42, of Rome. “I was like, ‘Is this the line?’ It’s interesting.”
Dammond and her daughter Markesha, 20, and step-daughter Atlantrish, 33, had a game plan.
They had already been to Timberland, but were eyeing the Vera Bradley store next. Dammond said there isn’t a Vera Bradley outlet where she lives.
The availability of hard-to-find outlets is a big draw for many customers. The Dawsonville mall, owned by Simon Malls, has many outlets that don’t exist anywhere else in Georgia, including lululemon athletica, The North Face and Tory Burch.
The safety and accessibility is also another reason why customers flock to the outdoor mall.
Dionne, who stood in a giant line outside the Coach outlet, was unwilling to give her last name or age, but said that she heads to the North Georgia Premium Outlets each year for Black Friday for two reasons.
“It’s safe and everything you need is right here,” she said. “This is my spot!”
Coach, which normally has one of the longest lines, was offering 70 percent off everything in the store.
Other stores with long lines included the Nike Factory Store, the Luxury Beauty Store, GameStop, kate spade, Fossil, The North Face and Michael Kors. Tory Burch and Nike were rivals for the longest lines; the Tory Burch queue of bundled-up shoppers wrapped around the store and down another aisle.
The lines continued into the night and into Friday morning. Security guards stood at the door of many stores, counting customers to keep occupancy compliant with fire codes.
The mall opened at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving night, with many stores opening even earlier. Mall management gave stores options to close at 2 a.m. and reopen at 6 a.m., but many announced to passersby that they wouldn’t be closing at all. And some stores, like Burberry, didn’t open at all on Thanksgiving.
Heather Halpern, general manager of the shopping center, said the option for the middle-of-the-night break was a new idea started last year but that it was one they intend to continue.
“Providing the best shopping experience is always our top goal, and we determined that giving our retailers that option was the best way to enhance our shoppers’ experience,” Halpern said. “Our retailers are not required to open all night, but the majority prefer to do so based on shopper interest.”
Halpern also agreed that safety is something the mall management takes seriously.
“The safety of our shoppers and employees is always our top priority,” Halpern said. “We have and will continue to take the necessary steps to help ensure a safe and secure shopping environment here at our center. We have a close working relationship with the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and work in tandem with them to develop the center’s security program.”
With over 140 stores at the mall, Halpern says it is hard to beat the social experience that can be shared with friends and family on the most consumption-heavy day of the year, something that is hard to replicate with online shopping.
“When you’re shopping at North Georgia Premium Outlets...you get the instant gratification of taking your purchase home with you immediately,” Halpern said.
Despite the chilly weather, packed parking lot and large crowds, the droves of shoppers that came out to Dawsonville on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday conveyed one message, loud and clear: holiday shopping season has begun.
North Georgia Premium Outlets Holiday Hours:
Stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 27 to Dec. 2, then 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Dec. 15.
On Christmas Eve, the mall will be open for the last-minute, panicked shoppers from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The mall will be closed on Christmas.
For more detailed hours and a list of stores, visit www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/north-georgia.