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Open season for shoppers

By Billy Corriher

When Sandy Wilson of Riverdale arrived at her local Wal-Mart Friday morning at 5:30 a.m., she said the rain and bitter wind were the least of her worries.

"There were so many people there. It was horrible," she said. "People were pushing and shoving."

But despite the bad weather and crowds, Wilson said she could not resist the after-Thanksgiving sales.

"You can get some really good deals," she said.

The National Retail Federation predicts that, with most government offices and many business closed, one in three Americans will be shopping Friday.

The parking lots of Clayton and Henry counties proved this out easily on Friday.

Southlake Mall in Morrow was bustling Friday morning with shoppers cramming in stores, looking for the best deals. Mall security estimates there were more than 20,500 people had shopped in the mall as of 5 p.m.

Tina Moore, 37, of Locust Grove said that when she and her sister, Donna Keeter, arrived at Southlake at 7 a.m., she was surprised at how many consumers came out to face the weather.

"We drove around for 15 or 20 minutes just trying to find a parking spot," she said.

But Moore said the bustling crowds at the mall make for interesting shopping.

"We go every single year," Moore said. "You have some good sales, but it's really just the excitement."

At Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, Manager Dawn Wagner of Eddie Bauer said her store has also been extremely busy since it opened at 7:30 a.m.

"There were a lot of early birds here even though it was raining," she said. "We've been very busy."

But Alan Jenkins, 54, of Ellenwood, said the deals that he and his wife found when they arrived at Tanger at 8 a.m. made enduring the weather worth it.

"The sales are too good to pass up," he said.

Jenkins said that he usually shops on "Black Friday" after he gets a look at his grandchildren's wish lists on Thanksgiving. On Friday, he was buying video games for his 12-year-old grandson and the popular Yu-Gi-Oh toys for his 5-year-old grandson.

"They've always got a big list," Jenkins said. "So we like to get our shopping out of the way."

Jane Finch, 57, arrived at the outlet center at 7 a.m. with her daughter, who she is visiting in Stockbridge. Finch said the outlet center was still not as crowded as she thought it would be.

"There were a lot of people here, but it still could have been worse," she said. The only long line Finch said she endured was at the toy store where she was buying the popular Bratz doll for her 5-year-old niece

"The only big line I've had is at the toy store. We must have stood in line for 20 minutes."

KB Toys in Southlake opened at 4:30 a.m. to the hordes of shoppers and had lines stretching outside the door through the morning.

Manager Lynne Peak of Bath and Body Works in Southlake said her store was also off to a great start for the holiday season and had already done $10,000 worth of business, compared to $2,000 on a normal day.

And, with only 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, her store is depending on a good holiday season, she said. Her store usually does 75 percent of its business for the whole year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And most retailers nationwide will have a better holiday season this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The National Retail Federation is anticipating that, with the national economy on the rebound, people will be spending more on holiday gifts than last year.

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.

Federation spokesman Scott Krugman said that nationwide jobless claims are the lowest since 2001.

"People are going to be in a better position to spend this year," he said.

Marlene Trawick, assistant manager of Rich's-Macy's in Southlake, said that, so far, it looked like the store would do more business this year than after last year's Thanksgiving.

"Our sales have already been up this year," she said. "So we're anticipating a great holiday season."

Krugman said that a lot of doubt about the economy and anxiety over the looming war with Iraq hindered last year's holiday sales.

"Now, a lot of that uncertainty is gone and consumer confidence is up."