The jingle from a Salvation Army volunteer’s bell and the music from the holiday standard “We Need a Little Christmas” could be heard outside of a tall, glass window entrance to the Town Center at Cobb shopping mall off Barrett Parkway.
The mall opened at 8 p.m. Thursday and did not close until 10 p.m. Friday.
Shelly Weidner, director of business development for Town Center, said last year the mall opened at midnight Friday morning, but this year was bumped up by four hours to provide customers an opportunity to start shopping earlier.
By 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the mall was “slammed” with people and the parking lot was nearly at capacity, Weidner said.
“We have stayed busier for a longer period of time,” Weidner said, comparing the last two years.
But this year, Weidner said, there were a lot more kids and grandparents out with entire families shopping Thursday evening, compared to the early morning serious shoppers of past Black Fridays.
Weidner would not predict if Town Center will be open Thursday evening next year, and said that decision will be based on the needs of shoppers.
Extreme late-night discounts
Inside Town Center’s JC Penney store Friday afternoon, women carried piles of clothes hanging over their arms and shoe boxes were stacked on registers.
Lining the aisles were racks of
Christmas-themed cozy robes and mannequins posing in holiday dresses for young girls.
One department had racks of winter coats with signs advertising 20, 40, 60 and even 80 percent off.
JC Penney’s boot sale is the highlight every year, with some shoes that are normally as high as $100 on sale for $19.99 to $39.99, Allie Flemming said.
For hours Thursday and Friday, Flemming, the store’s lead manager, was wearing a Santa hat and a bright red smile.
Flemming has been at the Town Center JC Penney store since August 2011, and with the company since 1992.
Flemming said there were people waiting at the door at 8 p.m. Thursday night, at midnight nearly every spot in the parking lot was filled and at 1:30 a.m. the JC Penney store was packed with people.
“I was blown away by the number of people in the mall all night long,” Flemming said.
This included many young people, who were at the mall to socialize that night, and young mothers with toddlers asleep in strollers as they shopped at 2 a.m., Flemming said.
But by 2:30 a.m., the entire Town Center Mall was nearly empty, except for the sales associates that had been called in for the overnight shifts.
Each store was hit again with swarms of shoppers around 4 a.m. From that time until midafternoon, there were waves of shoppers every hour, Flemming said.
Flemming said the goal was to consistently restock and replenish the racks. The JC Penney store will get another truck of merchandise Sunday.
Holiday customer service
During the two-day Black Friday event, many of the mall employees hurried home for only three or four hours to sleep.
“We had some unique shifts,” Flemming said.
The Town Center JC Penney store treated employees to a Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening and a never-ending pizza party all day Friday. Each worker also received a “Rule the Yule” swag bag, including a Santa hat, water bottle and $20 gift card.
“Y’all spoiling us,” said Diane Tatum, who has worked at the JC Penney’s location for 13 years.
Tatum said her station in the men’s department was one of the calmer locations on Black Friday.
But the men’s department will see the most activity right before Christmas, with gift purchases for dads and husbands saved until late in the shopping season.
Stephen Winn is the store manager of Brookstone at Town Center, an electronics and high-tech gift store, where customers go to become interactive with the latest devices, as well as sit in the massage chair after hours of shopping at the mall.
Winn said the shoppers during this year’s Black Friday had cheerier attitudes, and he believes it is due to the rebounding economy.
November has been a very slow month for sales this year, and with Thanksgiving at the very end of the month, the Christmas shopping season is shorter, Winn said.
That is why, Winn said, from a business standpoint, he thinks opening Thursday night was a success.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Winn said.
Winn also added the Town Center Brookstone will be offering even more deals next week to entice shoppers into the physical store to combat the online shopping craze called Cyber Monday.
Veteran Black Friday shoppers
A group of women, including sisters, mothers and aunts from the Dallas/Acworth area, found a small spot to sit down in the JC Penney shoe department near the exit around noon Friday, with brightly colored plastic bags laying all around them.
The ladies, who had been shopping since 4 a.m. and had already taken one load out to the car, said they would continue with the shopping marathon until the sun goes down or they run out of money.
Crystal Lear, Michelle Wiley, Debbie Sherwood and Kathy Long, have been shopping on Black Friday for nearly a decade, and Kanisha Burns joined the group for the first year.
Shopping both for themselves and gifts to give out for Christmas, Lear said she had her list almost checked off, especially gifts for her 13-year-old daughter, who mostly asked for clothes, shoes, perfume and accessories.
The group specifically decided not to go out on Thanksgiving night. Shopping, instead of spending time with family, would make the actual holiday “bittersweet,” Lear said.
Lear said the sales were not as good as last year, and felt some of the merchandise had been picked over by the Thursday shoppers.
But Long said she was surprised at how good the selection still was by Friday and the experience was more pleasant with a thinner crowd of shoppers than in years past because of the extended hours.
Sherwood added the group comes to Town Center every year instead of a superstore like Walmart, which she said has more frantic and sometimes violent crowds.
Multiple Black Friday trips
Although Wal-Mart superstores are open 24 hours, this year Black Friday deals began as early as 6 p.m. Thursday with a second wave of discounts at 8 a.m. Friday
This year, Wal-Mart promised to double the inventory of select items like computer tablets and offer prices lower than ever before.
For example, this year a 32” LED television was available for $98. Last year, it sold for $148 at Wal-Mart.
Mandy Shaw, who lives in Kennesaw off of Due West Road by Harrison High School, said it has been a family tradition to shop on Black Friday since she was young.
“We have always participated in Black Friday, to the point that our family Thanksgiving consists of looking at the sales ads after the meal,” Shaw said. “Every year that Black Friday started earlier we just adjusted our times.”
This year, Shaw, her sister, mother and husband, Deric, headed out Thursday evening and waited in line outside of the Old Navy store off Barrett Parkway for an hour to get a 50 percent discount throughout the store.
“It was so much fun. It was a blast,” Shaw said.
The family hit a few other stores and Town Center, wrapping up around 3 a.m. Friday.
Shaw said the crowd at Town Center was much larger than in past years, and said it might be that staying up late is more practical for people than getting up early.
“It actually felt pleasant seeing people buying this year,” said Shaw about shoppers who were not just looking for large deals, but many items to purchase.
Shaw, who was searching for deals on cookware sets and blenders, said the home goods departments were very crowded.
After some sleep, Shaw said they were headed back out to Wal-Mart Friday evening and will be going to the Square in Marietta Saturday for Small Business Saturday, a nationwide push that started in 2010 to get shoppers into brick and mortar shops on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
“I love the small shops of Marietta and west Cobb,” Shaw said.