Sales draw lines, open holiday tradition

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 24, 2000

Hundreds of shoppers wait their turn to get into JC Penney at Pemberton Square mall early Friday morning. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

First there were 50 and then about 100, but soon the shoppers gathered outside JC Penney Friday morning grew to nearly 200 who were counting the minutes and waiting for after-Thanksgiving sales to start.

When the doors slid open at 7, eager customers flooded in to officially inaugurate the Christmas rush.

“We do this every year,” said Doug Lambert while waiting. Lambert, from Nashville, along with his wife and daughter, a brother from Florida, a sister from Clinton, a sister from Dallas and his mother, “Micky” Lambert of Vicksburg, have made their mall assault a family tradition.

“We come to my mom’s every Thanksgiving,” he said. And “we always have fun shopping (the next day.)”

While the holiday shopping spree started Friday, it no longer is the busiest shopping day of the year. It was the eighth busiest in 1999, when about 49 percent of Americans waited for the last 12 days before Christmas to do their buying, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Only 8.5 percent bought gifts over the Thanksgiving weekend last year.

But don’t tell that to Laveda Pell.

“I usually get everything done today,” Pell said. “It puts me in the Christmas spirit.”

Pell was among the handful of truly dedicated shoppers who braved not only heavy rains, but the dark hours of the morning to be at Kay-Bee Toy Store’s 5 o’clock opening.

By 7, when people were getting into the swing of holiday shopping, Pell was headed out of the mall in the cold and blowing rain, arms full of booty, on her way to Wal-Mart and then to Jackson.

She said it would be midnight before she returned home after a day full of shopping.

“That’s why I drive a van,” Pell said.

David Heydasch, general manager of Pemberton Square mall, said he didn’t think the rain, which was forecast to continue throughout Friday and Saturday, kept anyone away.

“We’ve had a good crowd this morning,” Heydasch said. “Our traffic count has been about the same as last year when we didn’t have any rain.”

Nationally, analysts are expecting about a 3 percent to 4 percent sales increase this holiday, down from 7 percent last year. Still, Heydasch is optimistic that local retailers could see as much as an 8 percent increase.

Traditionally, retailers do half of their year’s business between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We’re expecting a real good year,” said Elizabeth Porter, marketing assistant at Vicksburg Factory Outlets.

Most of the stores there did not open until 9 Friday morning, but an early opening at the Gap Outlet drew a crowd, Porter said.

“We’re hoping that with the weather, we’ll still get a good crowd today,” she said.

Online sales projections for December are $11.6 billion, up from $7 billion a year ago, according to Jupiter Research, but that isn’t close to the doubling or tripling of sales that occurred in previous seasons.

The good news for stores is that there will be five shopping weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, since the holiday falls on a Monday. That’s not great for online companies, whose customers need to order gifts by Dec. 12, two days earlier than last year, to take advantage of standard delivery.