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JC Penny cashier Daisa Huff works to ring out a flood of shoppers on Thanksgiving day as the Black Friday shopping deals begin early again this year.
polls here 3418Mother and daughter Beth and Olivia Akin have never shopped on either Black Friday or Thanksgiving Day before — "I'm not doing that fightin' stuff," said Beth, the mother — but they wanted to try it out this year.

Standing in line to check out at JCPenney at Hamilton Place mall on Thanksgiving night, they found everything they needed. And then some.

"This is our second time standing in line here," Beth Akin said with a chuckle.

The Black Friday sale has spilled into Thanksgiving evening in recent years, a day known for shopping deals and crazy crowds. And every year it comes hard and fast, swirling in the dawn patrol mobs and beating relentlessly for hours until it finally recedes with the afternoon.

The Akins said that after JCPenney, they'd swing over to Best Buy for a deal on a TV. Sue and Jacob Hilmes were standing in the Best Buy line waiting to get in the store.

There were so many people in the store around 6 p.m. that the ones standing in line had to wait for people to come out so there wouldn't be too many people in the building.

It was also the Hilmes' first time shopping on the holiday, and it was a spontaneous decision. They were sitting around after their Thanksgiving meal when they saw an ad saying Best Buy was open. Jacob needed a TV, so they decided to give it a shot.

"Everybody back home is napping," Sue Hilmes said.

For stores like JCPenney, Best Buy and hundreds of others, Thanksgiving weekend is the single largest American shopping holiday. Last year, 87 million people shopped on Black Friday alone.

Winter holiday season sales — which span Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — make up roughly 20 percent of what the retail industry brings in on a yearly basis. Holiday sales this year are expected to reach $630.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, out of total 2015 retail sales of an estimated $3.2 trillion.

The winter holiday shopping season has wide-spread economic impacts, including on employment numbers and opportunities. Retailers and delivery services hire thousands to fill temporary holiday positions annually. This holiday, employers are expected to create upwards of 750,000 seasonal jobs.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, there are also practical matters to tackle during the holidays — like extended hours and bigger utility bills and increased security.

Most retailers will operate on special holiday schedules through Christmas and New Year's Day. That means for four weeks, the lights will be on longer and the HVAC units will work overtime.

"We do see an impact on our electric bills throughout the holiday season because of the extended holiday hours," said Catharine Wells, marketing director at Hamilton Place mall operator CBL & Associates Properties.

Hamilton Place opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, closed at midnight and then turned around and reopened at 6 a.m. today.

The benefits, said Wells, are calmer, steadier crowds on Thursday and a little less chaos come Friday morning.

"Instead of the parking lot being completely full at 6 a.m. on Friday morning, we're seeing it be a little bit more steady," she said.

A lot of shoppers enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with family in the early evening and then head out to shop, which for many is now as much a part of Thanksgiving tradition as yams and football.

Last year the mall opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, too, and Wells said it filled up by about 8 p.m., with folks "walking off the turkey, looking for some good deals."

"I can't tell you how many times I've seen families together," said Wells. "They have matching shirts."

Nathan Harrold, general manager at JCPenney, said even aside from utilities, "it is a huge, huge battle" wrangling the logistics of the Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

He said the store works between 70 and 80 associates over the course of Black Friday, and that many volunteer for the holiday shifts, in part because they're paid double-time. The store is still hiring seasonal help.

To make the weekend as easy as possible, Harrold said his store had catered meals available so associates didn't have to leave and fight traffic and restaurant crowds.

Also, Harrold said overnight associates at his store did their best to restock shelves and, in the lull between midnight and around 5 a.m. this morning, prepare for a new wave of shoppers and the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. rush.

"Retail is like no other industry out there," he said. "I can't think of another industry that peaks so violently."

Harrold loves the rush, though.

"It's one of the most fun days of the year, for me, to work," he said. "The energy's electric. We work long, late hours, and to have that kind of energy during that time, it helps tremendously and helps the time go by quickly and before you know it, you've worked your shift."

When it's over, "then you go home and crash," he said.

Similarly at Dick's Sporting Goods on Gunbarrel Road, Manager Shawn Rodgers said it's an "all-hands-on-deck" day. His store has been preparing for this weekend for at least a month.

"It's a lot of preparation," said Rodgers. "You're training a lot of temporary associates. You're trying to get a lot of people trained in a short period of time. We've had conference calls after conference calls, emails after emails, checklists after checklists."

Preparing is important because the stakes are high.

"This could make or break your year, in the fourth quarter here," Rodgers said. "It'll be the biggest shopping day for us, by far."

Brittany and Cheryl Anderson got to Belk department store at 4 p.m. Thanksgiving night — doors opened at 6 p.m. — and were near the front of the line. They were here last year, too, but farther back in line so they got here extra early this year.

Brittany was looking for some blue jeans, and Cheryl was looking for a good deal. They didn't mind being away from home on Thanksgiving.

"We did our early lunch," Brittany Anderson said. "And we love shopping."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480 and staff writer Evan Hoopfer at ehoopfer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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