After two years of sluggish holiday sales, Chattanooga-area retailers are hopeful that 2010 will be the beginning of a turn-around.
Nationally, holiday shopping is expected to be up 2.3 percent in 2010, according to the National Retail Foundation. Last year, holiday sales were up less than 0.4 percent after a disastrous decline of 3.9 percent in 2008.
Martin Nobles, manager of Belk at Northgate Mall, said he expects sales to improve this year.
"Early indications are showing that it will definitely be an exciting shopping season," he said. "Black Friday is a big day for us as a retailer because it's the kick-off for the holiday shopping season."
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally when holiday shopping gets into full swing. Orginally, it was coined to mark the beginning of yearly profitability for many retailers dependent on holiday sales. (Interestingly, the Saturday before Christmas - not the day after Thanksgiving - is often the highest-volumn shopping day of the year.)
Mark McKnight, marketing director at Rock/Creek in Chattanooga, also expects a productive Black Friday at the store's North Shore and Hamilton Place locations. The store will offer some discounted items, he said.
"We definitely expect sales to go up this year. We're already seeing that trend," he said.
Unemployment in Hamilton County, still at a painful 7.8 percent, is better than a year ago and improving by the month, according to the state department of labor. It was 8.7 percent as recently as August. Job security often drives retail sales growth.
Chattanoogan Emily Elizabeth Goodin said Black Friday gets people in the mood for Christmas.
"I always love to hit the stores and get excited about Christmas shopping," she said. "Even if I'm not looking for a certain item on sale, I end up finding something. I cut way back last year, but my shopping mindset is back to normal now."
Anne Exum, of Chattanooga, said her family has a tradition of shopping at small, locally owned shops on Black Friday.
"Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn and going to the big stores, my family goes only to locally owned shops like Plum Nelly, Clay Pot, Sophie's and more," she said. "You don't have parking problems and you can get good deals, too. It's a lot of fun."
Black Friday opening hours
* Wal-Mart - 5 a.m.
* Target - 4 a.m.
* Kmart - 5 a.m.
* Kohl's - 3 a.m.
* Toys R Us - Opens on Thanksgiving Day at 10 p.m.
* Hamilton Place - 5 a.m.
* Northgate - Select stores open at midnight and 4 a.m.; entire mall at 6 a.m.
* Sam's Club - 5 a.m.
* Costco - 9 a.m.
Nobles said Belk will have a record-breaking 260 special sales on Black Friday, with some items being discounted up to 70 percent off retail prices.
"We'll have great value products, considerably more specials this year than last," he said. "It's also a competitive issue for us. We want to offer great value to our customers so they will continue shopping with us."
Many local shoppers prepare for Black Friday sales by perusing through Thanksgiving Day newspaper advertisements. It's typically the largest newspaper of the year, said Leslie Kahana, Times Free Press advertising director.
"... We condition people to go to the Thanksgiving Day paper because readers know the very best shopping deals come after Thanksgiving," she said. "Advertisers are conditioned to use that day, as well, so it's by far the biggest newspaper day of the year."
Readers will find this year's Thanksgiving Day newspaper to be bigger than last year's, Kahana said.
"This year, we have six inserts more than last year, even in this tough economy," she said.
For the first time, the Times Free Press will include the "Very Merry Gift Guide," in the Thanksgiving newspaper, she said.
"(It's) 84 glossy pages of local businesses that want to capture and take advantage of the busiest shopping day," Kahana said.
Sunday-only subscribers will receive a complimentary Thanksgiving Day newspaper, she said.
Some people, though, head to the web instead of stores for their shopping needs.
Signal Mountain resident Renee Robinson Shoop said crowds keep her away from the malls.
"Cyber Monday is far preferable," she said. "We do about 90 percent of our Christmas shopping online."