Gloria Chambers carried a few small bags through J.C. Penney on Saturday, the very start of her shopping for the Christmas season.
The Saturday before Christmas is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and this Saturday was expected to be second only to the Friday after Thanksgiving in terms of sales.
"They're both very big, in terms of traffic," said Marty Smith, manager of the J.C. Penney store at Hamilton Place mall. "But people shop differently than they do on Black Friday."
At the beginning of the holiday season, shoppers tend to make bigger purchases or buy more, Smith said. In the last few days before Christmas, they're just sort of filling in around the edges.
"Everybody's got a few people left on their list," he said.
Chambers, 50, was out with her son Keith Hardeman, 29, and her grandson Nolan Hardeman, 5, who were tagging along with her as she shopped.
Hardeman completed his list, picking up the final gift: a bottle of perfume.
"I'm done, too," Nolan announced.
"What did you get Nana?" Chambers teased him.
Though the parking lot outside Hamilton Place was packed with cars, Chambers was a little surprised that the stores didn't appear full.
"Actually, it's not been as bad as I thought," Chambers said. "Or maybe it's just been the stores we've gone into."
Hamilton Place has been preparing for the Christmas rush for weeks, said Catharine Wells, spokeswoman for mall management.
"Because of the way Christmas falls this year, we have all hands on deck," she said.
In the heart of Chattanooga, the stores on Frazier Avenue seemed a little more relaxed, though they were just as busy as the mall.
"We hit Frazier Avenue always right before Christmas," said Ann Treadwell, 55, who was shopping with her son Jacob McKee, 21, from Rocky Face, Ga.
McKee said it's a mother-son tradition for most of his life. They start their shopping day by getting coffee and then browse the stores on the North Shore.
They were looking through the jewelry selection at Blue Skies of Chattanooga, a gift store on Frazier Avenue, and already had picked up a bird ornament in the store.
"We do it to get in the mood for Christmas," Treadwell said. "All the big stuff -- that's done. We're just getting ornaments and little things."
Scott Quatro, 44, and his sons Keaton, 15, and Hudson, 11, chose to get last-minute items on the North Shore rather than trek to the mall.
"That's our nightmare," Quatro said.
Blue Skies expected sales to be about 10 times those of an average day, making it the biggest sales day of the year for the store, owner Tina Harrison said.
Popular items for the year included strings of lights made out of shotgun shells, holiday ornaments, artisan jewelry and the always-popular, custom-made Chattanooga signs.
"It's really satisfying to see people fall in love with the merchandise we've so carefully selected," Harrison said.