published Friday, November 26th, 2010

Ready, set, shop!

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    Staff Photo by Allison Carter Thursday while waiting in line at the Gunbarrel Road Best Buy Johnny Evans, right, reads the Best Buy circular as Jerry Beck, left, drinks his coffee and his wife Marlene Beck, center, plays cards with their son. They were all waiting in line to take advantage of Best Buy's Black Friday sales.

By the time you read this, Michelle Soloman likely will be at Hamilton Place doing what she's done for years on Black Friday: looking for bargains.

Stores at the mall planned to open at 5 a.m. in anticipation of big crowds on what has come to be known as the busiest shopping day of the year nationwide.

Retailers look to this day's results as a bellwether for the entire holiday shopping season, and many of the larger stores were opening well before dawn with doorbuster deals designed to lure Soloman and others like her.

Some even got an early start on Thanksgiving, with Kmart, Walmart and Sears already offering deals.

Experts said consumers will remain price-conscious this year and will be looking for sales.

Richard Anderson, of Rossville, said it's the big sale items that drive him.

"You have to go to the one that has the best doorbusters," he said.

Anderson said he has came out for the sales for the past two years and this year he is looking for electronics. Leading up to this morning, Anderson said he was trying to find a baby sitter for his two sons so they don't have to go out.

Holiday sales this year are expected to be in the neighborhood of $447 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, which represents national chain stores, an increase of 2.3 percent over last year.

The increase still would be slightly off the 10-year average annual increase of 2.5 percent, but better than last year's increase of 0.4 percent -- and much better than the 3.9 percent sales decline during the 2008 holidays.

Meanwhile, in its annual survey of Christmas gift spending released Tuesday, the Conference Board, private business-research organization, said U.S. households are expected to spend an average of $384 on gifts this holiday season. That's $6 less than last year's estimate of $390.

Lynn Franco, director of the consumer research center of the Conference Board, said the survey found that one in four U.S. households will spend more than $500 on gifts this year, 39 percent expect to spend between $200 and $500 and 37 percent will spend less than $200.

Much of that spending will happen today.

Soloman, of Dayton, Tenn., said she has gone shopping on Black Friday for years. Sales advertisements are the key to a successful day, she said.

"I get the sales ads and make a plan," she said. "I have a list."

Last year was Stacy Reed's first Black Friday shopping experience.

"It was all right," said the Chattanooga resident. "There were some good deals."

But she said you have to get an early start to get the best deals.

While many will brave the crowds this morning, many others planned to stay away from the stores and malls.

"You can't pay me enough to go," said Joseph Sandoval, of Rossville. "It's not worth getting up at 2 a.m. to shop."

Sandoval said the sales offered are great but, to him, it isn't worth the time or "headache" of wading through the endless crowds.

For those not wanting large crowds, the merchants on the North Shore hope you will visit them.

The NorthShore Merchants Collective is hosting its fifth annual Holiday Open House from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday. Collective President David Smotherman said the North Shore shops offer a more casual setting than the bigger stores do.

"This is the perfect place to go shopping," Smotherman said. "There isn't as much traffic, and things go at a slower pace."

Smotherman said several stores will hold drawings over the weekend and offer refreshments. Musicians will perform throughout the weekend at various locations.

"This is the biggest event of the year for the North Shore merchants," he said.

Still other shoppers want to avoid the crowds entirely.

They can look forward to Cyber Monday -- as the Monday after Thanksgiving has come to be known -- with online retailers offering sales and discounts on merchandise to promote shopping on the Internet.

McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.

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