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Large Christmas decorations hang inside Hamilton Place Mall as shoppers take advantage of Black Friday sales.
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A large crowd of people pass center mall on the lower level inside Hamilton Place Mall as window signage advertise big discounts to lure shoppers inside on Black Friday.

Once the leftover turkey and stuffing was stored in the fridge, the beginning of the shopping season kicked off on Black Friday with the standard hordes of bargain-hungry shoppers.

The holiday season this year seems poised to be one of the biggest on record with an expected 3.3 percent increase in retail sales at physical stores, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $683.90 for the holidays this year.

But for at least some consumers and retailers, the season started a day later than it has over the last several years after CBL & Associates Properties Inc. — the company that manages Hamilton Place and Northgate malls, as well as dozens of other shopping centers in 30 states — decided to keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving.

"We feel like Thanksgiving is a family holiday and that our employees, our store employees and our shoppers should be able to enjoy the day with their families," said Stephen Leibovitz, president and CEO of CBL.

"We have over 1,000 CBL employees at the malls, we have roughly 100,000 employees if you count all the retailers in our malls, so we could really make an impact by making this decision," he said.

Secondarily, data and feedback from retailers told Leibovitz and other administrators that opening on Thanksgiving wasn't necessarily even profitable.

"The sales were just being spread out over more hours," he said. "It wasn't like we were generating additional sales, it was really the same amount."

Whatever the reasons may have been for closing, Leibovitz said the response from employees was overwhelmingly positive.

"I got personal letters handwritten from people thanking us for that decision. It really hit a nerve, i don't think we even expected it to get the outpouring of support it created," he said.

Jeff Bass, one of the owners of Colony 13, a retail store in Northgate Mall, was one of those people who was appreciative of the decision. He said news that the mall would be closed was a thrilling change and it certainly hasn't diminished sales.

"It's been slammed today," he said on the phone over the noise of the crowded store. "We're on track to do better than last year, which is great, and it was a great year last year, so we're pretty optimistic."

As for what people are buying, he said shoppers seem to be gravitating toward Kavu bags and clothing items in his store, not to mention jewelry.

"Definitely Pandora. Pandora, Pandora, Pandora. That's definitely our best line."

But the retail news wasn't all good for the day. A few miles away in the parking lot of Hamilton Place mall, the shopping frenzy was cut short for some customers after a shooting shortly before 4 p.m.

Two men suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds when a fight between several men in the mall spilled into the parking lot, turning violent. One suspect was taken into custody and another person of interest was detained.

J.C. Penney and Sears, the stores closest to the scene, were closed for several hours as a safety precaution, but the rest of the mall was quickly reopened once it was clear there was no danger to the public.

On the other side of town, some shoppers used Black Friday as a way to take care of the Christmas shopping while doing something much, much more important.

"My wife is going into labor and the doctor said the walking is good," said Matt Harb at Warehouse Row while his wife, Marlee, shopped in Anthropologie. "They told us to not come in because we'll be waiting for hours."

He said she may be in labor for several hours, and getting some shopping done was a good way to do a couple things at once.

"It's getting her mind off it," he said.

After trying on some clothes, Marlee Harb said she was ready for the birth, too, and said she was going to "walk this baby out."

However, she did admit the pregnancy has made shopping for clothes a little more difficult, since she may look pretty different in a short while.

"I'm confused about what to buy, so I haven't gotten anything," she said. "It's all been for the baby."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

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