Miss. shoppers hit the stores

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mississippi bargain hunters hit the stores Friday as the annual Christmas shopping season kicked off.

Many stores opened their doors at 5 a.m. In some places, the shopping began shortly after midnight. Most malls opened to crowds at 6 a.m.

By 7 a.m. Friday at Belk in Columbus, Leticia Chism, 41, of Hamilton, was carrying her third load of items to her car.

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“This is tradition, we do it every year,” she said. “I’ve been here since just after six and it seems as busy as I remembered.”

Chism, who was shopping with her mother, said she usually enjoys the convenience of online shopping, but tradition trumps the ability to shop in her pajamas.

“It’s a family thing,” she said as she carried four large bags of goods out the door. “We’ll hit them all today — Goody’s, Penny’s, the mall and we’ll maybe even sneak a stop in at Wal-Mart.”

The tradition of the post-Turkey Day shopping spree was bestowed upon 21-year-old Evelyn Carter at Belk by her roommates Emily Watson, 21, and Kylie Stewart 22.

“She told us she had never done this before, so we decided to take her out,” said Watson, who has shopped with her mother for years.

The three Mississippi State University students traveled from Starkville for the Belk sale and Carter said she found some shoes, clothes and a back massager at a good price.

“They told me it was going to be madness,” Carter said. “It’s busy, but I’m surely disappointed. It’s isn’t as crazy as they’d said it would be. We did get here an hour and a half late though.”

For every bargain-hungry shopper there was a family member, loved one or friend who dutifully carried an armload of items on a morning that many think would be better spent in bed.

Brad Law took a seat in the women’s shoes area at Belk as his mother searched for her next deal. The 24-year-old Tuscaloosa, Ala., resident sat with a mound of bags and clothes struggling not to nod off into the sleep he said he so desperately needed.

“This is my first time,” Law said. “They go every year. I’m here just to help out my mom.”

In Hattiesburg, Mark and Christy Uldrick of Petal were among the early shoppers arriving at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 98 around midnight. Christy grabbed a place in line, while Mark moved throughout the store filling their cart with sale items and helping other shoppers nab some hot buys.

When the cashiers started ringing up the sale prices promptly at 5 a.m., Mark and Christy were the first ones through their check-out lane. By 5:10 a.m., they had loaded up their vehicle and were headed to Turtle Creek Mall.

Denise Hopkins of Hattiesburg thought arriving at Best Buy at 3:50 a.m. would get her there in plenty of time to land one of the 51-inch Hitachi televisions that were on sale for $699.99.

Upon her arrival she discovered hundreds of people in a line that wrapped around the front of Best Buy and along the other stores in the plaza.

“I thought I was doing good,” she said. “I didn’t even shower, just grabbed some coffee and left. But I’m like the 1,000th person in line.”

At Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, the crowds were encouraging to general manager Audrie Thompson.

“It’s busier this morning than what we experienced last year,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a tossup between today and the Saturday before Christmas as the busiest shopping days this year.”

Jenny Burroughs of Ridgeland said she got to the mall at 5:45 a.m. It was her first time to shop on Black Friday.

“I was amazed at how many people were at the mall that time of the day,” she said.

Burroughs said she plans to spend between $500 and $600, money she started saving in January for Christmas gifts.

At least one Jackson business didn’t wait for Friday.

At Carter Jewelers in downtown Jackson, more than 100 people waited for the store to open Thursday.

The crowd was so big, the managers had to call in the Jackson Police Department to help keep order.

Store owner Jerry Lake said opening on Thanksgiving Day gave him a leg up on the competition.

“We had over 100 people and I gave pearl earrings to the first 100. And even though we had 120, I found something for the other 20 that had been waiting in line hoping to be part of the 100,” Lake said.

Nationwide, retailers heightened their pitch to shoppers with expanded hours, generous discounts and free money in the form of gift cards to lure consumers in a slowing but still steady economy.

While Black Friday, so named because it was traditionally when the surge of shopping made stores profitable, officially starts holiday shopping, generally it’s no longer the busiest day of the season, that honor now falls to the last Saturday before Christmas. Stores say Black Friday sets the tone for the overall season, however: What consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the season.