Running out of time

By Greg Gelpi

Holiday shopping could be a bust nationally, but is booming locally. As time ticks down, mall parking lots fill up.

Holly Duffey, assistant general manager of Tanger Outlet Mall in Locust Grove, said business has been "bustling."

Traffic Saturday, in fact, rivaled Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, she said.

"We expected it to increase, but not that much," Duffey said, explaining that there were about 10,000 cars at the outlet center.

Despite the heavy traffic, Tanger isn't as overcrowded as the larger malls in Atlanta, Duffey said. There are still parking spaces, and no one has had to park in the grass.

Tanger has also experienced an increase in gift card sales, she said, with more than $20,000 in sales.

"Our location has always done well with gift card sales," Duffey said. "It seems like each year that has picked up."

Gift card sales should fuel more holiday traffic and more holiday spending in the weeks after Christmas, she said. Although there is a $1 fee charged for the gift cards, few have complained, she said, since a $5 voucher comes with the gift cards.

Traffic has been "consistently heavy" at Southlake Mall, Marketing Manager Andrea Brinkman said. She added that Black Friday left mall merchants "very, very happy."

Although she couldn't give specifics as to the number of shoppers or amount of shopping, Brinkman said Southlake has experienced an increase in weekday shoppers since Thanksgiving. Southlake Mall typically has about 2 million visitors during December.

Brinkman offered advice for the last-minute shopper. Get to the mall early to avoid larger crowds and buy credit card gift cards, a popular item that can be used to make purchases many places.

Despite the crowds at Southlake and Tanger, holiday shopping, which for "most businesses is very crucial," has been "sluggish" this year, said Russell Casey, Clayton College & State University assistant professor of Marketing and Merchandising.

"From what I'm hearing, the sales are a lot slower this year," Casey said. "(Retailers) are having to discount to get people into the stores. In the past, retailers had it made because the economy was going well."

Many consumers aren't opening their wallets this Christmas season unless there are major discounts or "easy" credit deals, he said. Bigger discounts translates into smaller profits for businesses.

The impact of the less than hoped for shopping is that there will be fewer "players," as businesses go out of business and merge to form larger businesses, he said.

Toy stores, for instance, do about 75 percent of their business during November and December, but toy store giany Toys "R" Us is "pretty much going to be up for sale," Casey said.