Photo: David McGregor Morgan Mikell and Austin Arnold catch up on some sleep as Courtney Arnold takes a break from shopping at the Mall of Georgia early Friday morning.
BUFORD -- At the Mall of Georgia, the parking lot was almost filled to the brim and drivers parked in open patches of grass. It could only mean one thing: Black Friday.
The amount of cars was no surprise. According to the TomTom top 10 list of U.S. shopping centers with largest amount of traffic congestion on this day, the Buford mall ranks No. 10 in the nation because thousands of holiday shoppers brave the chilly weather and early hours to find the best deals on gifts.
"I have no idea how many people are here, but I can tell you that the parking lots were about 95 percent full when we got here," said Carol Cox, Director of Marketing and Business Development for Simon Property Group, Inc. "There's definitely lots of shoppers, so that's very exciting, but the amount of people -- I have no idea."
Thousands of shoppers have been in and out of the mall since Thanksgiving night when the doors were open until 8 p.m., then re-opened at midnight.
"We had people open up on Thanksgiving, such as Old Navy. Anyone that done some shopping then, we asked them to leave for the other retailers to open at midnight," Cox said.
Although the Mall of Georgia doesn't allow people to camp outside, hundreds of dedicated shoppers waited for Belk to open at 3 a.m. and others weighed their options for different doorbusters.
"We have probably been at the mall since 2 a.m.," Terri Jamison of Hoschton said. "We came here, saw the line at Belk and we said, 'We could make it to Target and back.'"
And that's what they did. They were back at Belk when the doors opened and had knocked out more gifts from their lists.
Among the crowd were mother-daughter duos, entire families, sleeping shoppers, security guards on Segways and packs of teenagers in pajamas sipping on Red Bull energy drinks.
Some people specifically avoided the midnight sales and planned to only come to the mall at 4 a.m.
"I didn't try any of the midnight sales because I felt bad for all of the people who had to work on Thanksgiving," Dominique Alessi of Suwanee said. "We wanted to come (to the Mall of Georgia) for sure because they just have so many more stores -- get everything in one stop. We will stay until the list is gone or until we're tired of the mall."
There were a few injured shoppers in the sea of consumers, including Lisa Fife of Dahlonega. She recently had knee surgery, but was determined to shop with a knee brace and one crutch.
"I'm doing good because I have my brace on ... I come every year," she said. "I did create a plan, we will stay until we have everything we need."
Fife finished her shopping in about two hours.
With the beefed up security, open dialogue with the Gwinnett County Police Department and a crowd control plan, the early morning went off without a hitch.
"Everybody has been in a holly-jolly mood this morning, which is good for us," Cox said.