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Merchants brace for shopping bonanza

By Billy Corriher

Although fighting crowds and bitter cold at 6 a.m. might not sound like holiday fun to some, Lisa Fearrington said she never misses getting an early start on "Black Friday."

"I love it," she said. "I do it every year."

Fearrington said she just can not resist the big sales retailers have the day after Thanksgiving – dubbed Black Friday. She gets up at 5 a.m. and drives from her home in Forest Park to Southlake Mall for the early bird sales. Then she usually spends the afternoon shopping at Wal-Mart or Target.

"Sometimes I have to unload my car after I go to the mall," she said.

Fearrington will be one of millions of consumers around the country who will flock to retailers for the busiest shopping day of the year. The National Retail Federation predicts that one in three Americans will be shopping Friday.

A survey by the federation found that the average consumer plans to spend $671.89 on holiday presents this year, up from last year's average of $648.85.

And even though the economy is still recovering from its downturn, local merchants are predicting a very profitable holiday season.

Manager Erin Bauman of KB Toys in Southlake Mall said the store would probably do about $90,000 worth of business the day after Thanksgiving, compared to $2,000 to $3,000 on other days.

Bauman said she thinks toy stores, in particular, experience a surge in business before the holidays. "As it gets closer to Christmas, it gets pretty crazy in here," she said.

Alabaster Box, a small gift store on the McDonough Square, also expects big sales this holiday season, manager Jill Chaves said. "We pick up about a third more business before Christmas," she said.

"We're going to have a big day Friday," Chaves said.

Belk in McDonough is expecting about seven times its normal Friday sales on the day after Thanksgiving, said Manager Debbie Slicker.

And for those wanting to get a really early start on holiday shopping, Slicker said Belk will open its doors at 5:30 a.m.

JC Penney is also anticipating a huge crowd when, like many stores in Southlake Mall, it opens its doors at 6 a.m.

"It is absolutely the busiest day for us," said JC Penney Manager Bill Kendrick.

Kendrick said that, judging from the amount of business he's had so far this year, his store would do more holiday business than it has the past couple of years.

"We're seeing a little bit of improvement," he said. "People are more willing to come in and spend some money."

Manager Imbia Caldwell of Target in McDonough said her store is also holding a big sale and is expecting more business than last year's holiday season.

Manager Tom Francisco of Toys R' Us in Morrow said his store is also predicted big sales after Thanksgiving.

Francisco said traditional toys like Sesame Street merchandise and Barbie dolls, always sell well.

Fearrington said her 6-year-old daughter has Spongebob Squarepants on her Christmas list and her 4-year-old daughter is asking for Barbie dolls.

The National Retail Federation is predicting the hottest toys this year will be traditional toys like Barbie dolls for girls and cars and trucks for boys.