BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Alabama retailers are into the heart of a holiday shopping season that could mean more than $9.5 billion in sales in the state.
From outlet malls near the beach to the Tennessee Valley region in the north, stores were full Friday with shoppers looking for cut-rate prices on toys, flat-screen TVs, video games and clothes.
Nancy Dennis, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Retail Association, said the organization is projecting 2 percent growth in retail store sales in November and December, or about $8.9 billion total.
State residents are expected to spend another $712 million online or in other untaxed sales, meaning shoppers could shell out about $9.6 billion over the last two months of the year.
While Alabama's projected 2 percent growth in holiday sales lags behind national estimates of 3.5 percent in increases, Dennis said it is still an encouraging figure since sales are returning to levels before the recession hit in 2008.
The shopping rush began Thursday afternoon, despite complaints from some that shopping was getting in the way of Thanksgiving. Hundreds of cars packed the parking lots outside Wal-Mart stores and the huge Riverchase Galleria by nightfall.
"That's why retailers keep doing it," said Dennis. "They wouldn't do it if people didn't show up."
Police didn't report any major problems or violence in Alabama stores.
In Decatur, shopping carts packed Wal-Mart's aisles at 6 p.m. Thursday when sales started. People climbed on top of things to get out of the way as workers pushed through the crowds to get pallets of merchandise in place.
A woman with two small children yelled: "I'm never doing this again," repeatedly.
Mark Reid, of Decatur, waited in line two hours to purchase his son an Xbox 360 for $99, originally $179. "He bloody better appreciate it," Reid said.
In Oxford, cousins Megan Williams, 20, and Megan Brown, 16, were part of a family group that staked out stores including Wal-Mart and Target for the best deals. They thought it was good that stores were opening earlier than in the past.
"I think it's good for the people who actually have to work (Friday) and want the savings but can't afford to stay up until 4 in the morning," said Brown. "Stores opening at different times is good, too, because the traffic won't be as bad. If they all opened at midnight then everyone would be leaving at the same time and the roads would be dangerous."
After the long Thanksgiving weekend, the next big day for retailers will be the Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 21, Dennis said.