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Christmas shopping season off to a strong start locally

By Rebecca Barnhart-Allan
The post-Thanksgiving shopping season started earlier than usual this year it seems, as the Black Friday shopping frenzy was pushed back a good twelve hours ahead of schedule by the big box stores such as Walmart, Target, Toys-R-Us, and Best Buy. The late Thanksgiving Day shopping hours quickly became known as Gray Thursday. Hordes of shoppers set up early posts on Thanksgiving and early Friday morning at these big stores, with massive lines of people wending their way from the stores’ front doors, down the sidewalks and all the way out into the parking lots, as they waited patiently (or impatiently) for the highly touted deals that were advertised well ahead of the sales. The malls were inundated at 12:00 a.m. but slowed in the early morning hours, as shoppers shopped the deals and went home. Later morning hours proved to be a bit slower, but sales picked back up as the day wore on and into the weekend. According to local retailers, the season has started out pretty well as NBC news reported that an estimated 35 million people started their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving with an additional 89 million on Black Friday, which is up from last year’s 86 million. And for those who dislike waiting in huge lines and fighting the crowds, online shopping drew in an astounding $1 billion since the week before Thanksgiving.
NRF, short for the National Retail Federation, has forecast a 4.1 percent growth in sales from last year’s 5.6 percent across the nation. The typical consumer is expected to spend an average of $741 this holiday season, mostly on family members, with about 70 percent using cash, check and debit cards and only about 30 percent using credit cards. Last year’s projected spending was $704 per person, but finished at $740, and retailers are hoping that trend will continue this year as well.
But has the draw to the big box stores hurt or hindered local businesses, as the big retailers’ ability to advertise nationally far exceeds the advertising budgets of small businesses? When asked, local stores within Johnson County reported average to very good sales for both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Retailers such as Shay Brey, Mountain City Antiques, and Antiques and Treasures reported steady sales for both days, also noting that the majority of customers were non-locals visiting the area for the Thanksgiving holiday. True Value Hardware, having advertised its Black Friday sale earlier, reported a 15 percent increase in sales, and was extremely pleased at the courteous behavior of the customers at the opening rush. Country Road Antiques in Trade reported very good sales for Black Friday, while Mountain Antiques reported better sales on Small Business Saturday. In Boone, western wear store Watsonatta reported sales comparable to last year, as did Artwalk, while Farmers Hardware reported very good sales and Appalachian Antiques reported a whopping 25 to 30 percent increase from last year.
Overall, the sales by retailers were reported to be good or better than last year, which is a good sign for the remainder of the holiday season. Many retailers are hoping that consumers are going to continue to spend and that the Black Friday/Thanksgiving rush did not leave them completely broke on Sunday. And, hoping too, that this is a sign of things improving in our beleaguered economy.