Photo: David McGregor. Gamestop employee Sebastian Rivera gives change to a customer shortly after the store opened at Discover Mills on Black Friday in Lawrenceville. The mall opened at midnight for shoppers to get an early start to their shopping.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- A small group of people huddled around a fire pit outside Bass Pro shops about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, waiting for the doors to the store to open at 6 a.m. Friday.
Jay Appley said this is the third year he has staked out a place at the Discover Mills Mall store with friends, a get-together that has become sort of a tradition. Most didn't even plan to buy anything.
"I'm just hanging out," said Huey Hitchcock of Loganville. "He's my old boss and I don't see him very often," he said, pointing to Appley, who did intend to do a little shopping. He planned to buy three pairs of blue jeans he said would be on sale for $10.
Inside Discover Mills Mall, Grayson residents Christina Gavrilas and Reggie Pearson were buying coffee at Cinnabon but not to stay awake.
"I need to take the chill off," Pearson said. "We had about a 10-minute wait outside in the 30-, 35-degree weather."
The shopping duo was waiting for the doors at Nieman Marcus to open at midnight.
"I am here for jeans and jeans only," Pearson said. "We're hard to fit and we know Nieman has jeans that we like."
And that were on sale.
"I know it's just an additional 25 percent off of the already sales that they have going on," Gavrilas said. "It's better than paying full price."
This is the second year stores inside Discover Mills have opened at midnight, and mall manager Karl Woodard had high hopes for the Black Friday shopping holiday.
"I think that we're certainly going to do better than last year, which is a good, telling sign," Woodard said. "We'll have to see how far that goes."
Black Friday gets its name because it traditionally was the day when huge crowds would push stores into ''the black,'' or profitability. But the weekend doesn't necessarily predict spending for the rest of the season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual sales and profits for many stores, however, early reports pointed to some renewed spending vigor.
''So far, we are seeing that consumers are willing to spend a little more than what was on their intended list,'' said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at NPD Group Inc. ''This is a big gift for retailers. It was missing from the equation last year.''
After suffering the worst sales decline in several decades last holiday season, the retail industry is heading into the Christmas selling period armed with lean inventories and more practical goods on their shelves.
Still, with unemployment at 10.2 percent, many analysts expect that total holiday sales will be, at best, about even from a year ago.
On Friday morning, Ernie Stone hefted a box over his shoulder through the parking lot at BrandsMart USA. He and his wife had purchased a vacuum cleaner earlier in the week but exchanged it for another.
"This is the one we wanted originally," Vini Stone said of the vacuum her husband was loading into their SUV, "but it was twice as much (as the other one on Tuesday)."
The Stones returned to BrandsMart on Friday to take advantage of the Black Friday sale price.
Like Woodard at Discover Mills Mall, Harlan Russo, regional vice president for BrandsMart, expected the recently opened Gwinnett location to do well during Black Friday.
"We're expecting it to be very successful," he said. "If our grand opening was any indication, it's going to be huge. I think that location, more than any of our locations in this area, is going to be very successful since it's based near the (Mall of Georgia)."
Russo expected customers would be shopping for flat panel TVs, video games and portable navigation systems.
Fay Pitts drove about 60 miles, about an hour car trip, from Toccoa to Gwinnett to purchase an iron, a can opener and a Georgia Foreman Grill from the Buford retailer.
"I actually came down just for those things," she said. "You couldn't hardly get the buggies down the aisle, but still, it's worth waiting on."
After spending about an hour at BrandsMart, Pitts said she was headed to the Mall of Georgia to shop for Christmas gifts but didn't plan to spend as much as she had last year.
Despite employees attempting to control the flow of traffic, the parking lot at BrandsMart turned out to be a hazardous area for Barbara Goulding, who was waiting to pull into a parking space when her car was bumped by another vehicle backing out of a spot.
Goulding and her niece, Gloria Mitchell, who was visiting from South Carolina, had stopped by the store to purchase a cheese grater and still intended to go inside.
"We're here," Goulding said. "Why would I make it a wasted trip?"
The Associated Press contributed to this story.