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Bargain blitz kicks off holiday shopping season
Serious shoppers hit stores before dawn
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Drake Shurtleff's shopping experience began at 8 a.m. Thursday. While many were awaiting a platter of turkey, Shurtleff was awaiting the opening of Best Buy electronics store on Dawsonville Highway.

Armed with his mom's credit card, the Cornelia resident had a shopping list that include two laptop computers, a desktop computer and a GPS navigational device.

"It's worth the wait," said Shurtleff, who enjoyed his Thanksgiving dinner seated in a folding lawn chair wrapped in a large comforter.

By 9 p.m. Thursday, more than 100 people were awaiting the store's opening at 5 a.m. Friday.
Jody Gilreath of Gainesville came around noon Thursday for a computer. "It's a good deal ... a real good deal," Gilreath said.

Joy Brown of Gainesville had prepared Thanksgiving dinner before she left to come and camp out all night at the store. She also was in search of computers and other electronics. "My husband brought Thanksgiving dinner to me," she said.

Hundreds also waited in line for North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville to open. At midnight, the parking lot of the mall was nearing capacity as throngs of bargain hunters lined up in front of popular stores awaiting their turn to go inside.

In a twist on an old fairy-tale, at midnight the Coach turned into a madhouse. Only in this case, the Coach is a brand of designer accessories. The line of people waiting to enter the Coach store numbered in the hundreds.

Debbie Nunn of Canton emerged from the store with armloads of merchandise. "We got two coats, bags and scarves at 30 percent off," Nunn said. "I saved about $400."

Asked how much she spent, she declined to say. "Because if my name is going to be in the paper, my husband would kill me."

By 12:15 a.m., the parking lot at the outlet mall was overflowing. Many of the stores used outside security to limit the number of shoppers coming in as the space was nearing capacity.

In the retail trade, special offers designed to bring in shoppers are referred to as "door busters." At one store in the outlet mall, that term became quite literal.

At Polo Ralph Lauren, a pressing throng broke the hinges on the aluminum doors as they were opened at midnight.

Kelly Cooper left her job at a restaurant in Alpharetta to come directly to the outlet center. "I left work about 10:20, stopped for gas, and came here," Cooper said as she waited in line outside the Coach store. "I'll know it when I see it. It will jump out and say ‘Buy me, buy me, buy me,'" she said.

Greta Lipnick of Douglasville was waiting in line with her companions to go into a Banana Republic store. "I want to go into Coach, but the line is too long," she said.

Kristen Cordle, who was in the group with Lipnick, was blatantly honest about who she was shopping for. "I'm looking for clothes for myself because I'm a selfish person," said Cordle, who lives in Cumming. "No Christmas presents tonight. It's all about me."

Many of the center's stores were participating in the sales event and were offering additional discounts during the wee hours. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, at 5 a.m. began offering such specials as a Polaroid 42-inch LCD high-definition television for $798 and a $79.87 Sony digital camera.

From 5 a.m. to noon, Toys "R'' Us offered 101 early morning specials on such toys as Mattel Inc.'s Barbie styling set and Hasbro Inc.'s FurReal interactive jungle cat toy. That's four times the number it offered last year.

J.C. Penney Co. opened at 4 a.m., an hour earlier than last year. The retailer served up such deals as a leather massage recliner for $298.88, after a $50 mail-in rebate. The original price was $799. Other deals include 50 percent off toys and board games.

While Black Friday is expected by some analysts to be the busiest day of the season, it's not a predictor of how retailers will fare in the season overall. In fact, the weekend only accounts for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales. But it does set the tone, since what consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the year.

Last year, retailers had a good start during the Thanksgiving weekend, but many stores struggled in December and a shopping surge just before and after Christmas wasn't enough to make up for lost sales.

This year, analysts expect sales gains to be the weakest in five years. Washington-based National Retail Federation predicted total holiday sales will be up 4 percent for the combined November and December period, the slowest growth since a 1.3 percent rise in 2002.

Holiday sales rose 4.6 percent in 2006 and growth has averaged 4.8 percent over the last decade.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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