November 21, 2012 5:40:38 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
As families across the country gather over turkey and cranberry sauce to celebrate Thanksgiving, retailers and shopaholics alike are preparing for the biggest shopping day of the year -- Black Friday.
Droves of anxious shoppers will line up outside stores, clutching shopping lists that were as thoughtfully and meticulously prepared as a Navy SEALS covert mission. As the doors to stores across the nation part like the Red Sea, countless people will pour through in an attempt to get a holiday deal.
This year, however, the highly anticipated sales are starting hours earlier than last year. Some retail giants are hosting Black Friday sales today, in fact.
In a town with few national retailers, local stores are trying to compete with the giant chain stores. Shop owners in downtown Columbus have decorated their windows with tinsel and garland, hoping to entice shoppers. While Saturday is Small Business Day, local retailers are gearing up in anticipation of heavy Friday morning crowds, too.
Homer Beatty, owner of The Fashion Barn, said he expects record crowds.
"This whole week has been like Black Friday for us," Beatty said. "We have been covered up. People have decided to start spending again."
Beatty, who purchases his merchandise from markets in New York and Los Angeles, encouraged shoppers to stay local, noting gas prices and adding that he feels Columbus offers the same attractions as Tupelo or Tuscaloosa.
"We've got the same things here," he said.
For retail giant Belk, the Black Friday event will begin Thursday night at midnight, and general manager Larry Armstrong expects more than 1,000 people to line up outside the Columbus store awaiting the opening.
Armstrong admitted that while some shoppers do opt to go out of town to do their shopping, many will shop local.
"We're seeing more people shopping locally," he said. "Our sales have increased over 10 percent the last year (on Black Friday)."
While stores like Walmart and Kmart are opening at 8 o'clock tonight, Armstrong is hoping Belk's door-busters will draw a large crowd.
"We're giving a $1,000 gift card," Armstrong said. In addition, Armstrong said the store would be giving out gift cards ranging from $5 to $1,000 to the first 1,000 people at the door.
Coffee House on Fifth will also be on hand to give out coffee to the early morning shoppers.
Local gift shop owner Susan McKay owns Party and Paper on Fifth Street South in Columbus.
McKay said Party and Paper will open at 9 a.m. Friday, but she expects larger crowds in the afternoon.
"They hit all the major sales first and then they come to the smaller stores that have unique merchandise," she said.
McKay added that with an uncertain economy, she expects smaller crowds this year but is optimistic about turnout.
"Due to the economy, we expect the crowds to be slimmer, but we're hoping everyone shops locally," she said. "It is critical, especially this time of year, for your small businesses to succeed and provide special items you can't find in the big box store."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.