Retailers get ready for big day

DULUTH - Last Saturday, about 200 employees crowded into Best Buy in Duluth at 6 a.m. to do a dress rehearsal of Black Friday. Divided into groups playing various roles, employees practiced greeting customers, dealing with more than one customer at a time, calming irate shoppers and covering areas that will have hot ticket items.

"Last year, customers started lining up outside at midnight," said Manager Paul Ortiz. "By 5 a.m. the line was wrapped around the back and sides of the building. We had 1,000 customers per hour walk in the door the first five hours."

Traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, the Friday after Thanksgiving can determine whether a store finishes the year in the black or in the red.

John Heavener, president of the Georgia Retail Federation, said customers are ready to spend.

"We believe it will be a strong day," Heavener said. "Some estimate sales will be up as much as 5 percent over last year."

The International Council of Shopping Centers on its Web site said about 17 percent of Americans expect to increase their holiday spending this year, averaging $676 per person. That's good news for Ortiz, who expects big screen TV's, plasmas, LCDs and laptop computers to be in demand again this year.

Retailers at Discover Mills Mall are gearing up for an estimated 72,000 customers Friday, up from last year's 68,000, according to Yvonne Jacobs, marketing director. She said Black Friday is no longer the make or break day it was in years past.

"The big push this year is toward gift cards," Jacobs said. "They have extended the holiday sale period into January. December retail sales don't give the true picture because people come back to shop for Christmas gifts in January."

More than 137 million Americans are expected to shop on Friday, said Ellen Davis of the National Retail Federation.

"Last year was a strong year and retailers are going all out with incentives to get customers in the store," Davis said.

Gwinnett County's three major malls are all planning early openings. Predawn Mall of Georgia shoppers will enjoy carolers from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Gwinnett Place Mall will offer Starbucks samples and free truffles from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Even Toys 'R' Us in Buford will fling open their doors at a chilly 5 a.m.

"We expect any Brats products or the 10th Anniversary Tickle Me Elmo to be in demand," said Manager Stacy Kelley.

PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii are also expected to be big selling items this shopping season.

n Discover Mills Mall - Friday hours 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (some stores open

at 5 a.m.)

•Gwinnett Place Mall - Friday hours 5 a.m.

to 10 p.m.

•Mall of Georgia -

Friday hours 6 a.m.

to 10 p.m. (Some stores open at 5 a.m.)

•Best Buy, Duluth - Friday hours 5 a.m.

to 11 p.m.

•Toys 'R' Us, Buford - Friday hours 5 a.m.

to 10 p.m.