Back in Black Friday in Northeast Mississipi

TUPELO – At 1:38 Thursday afternoon, Robert Gassaway was thrilled – if not a bit surprised – to be the first in line at Best Buy in Tupelo.
Like thousands of shoppers across Northeast Mississippi, Gassaway wanted to be among the first to snag a good deal when stores rolled out their Black Friday specials.
One of the busiest shopping days of the year, the day after Thanksgiving traditionally begins the Christmas shopping season.
Like millions of consumers across the country, shoppers in Northeast Mississippi were in a buying mood, whether they were at the mall or visiting smaller shops and stores in other shopping centers and downtown.
For Gassaway, spending several hours in the heat, then the rain and then the cold in order to buy a computer and car audio components when Best Buy’s doors opened at 5 a.m. Friday was worth the wait.
“I’ve been doing this a few years,” he said. “The first time I was here at 2:30 a.m. on Black Friday, and I was standing in line around the corner of the building.”
Vanessa Maldonado and Emily Spradlin didn’t have to worry about standing in a line around the corner of any building either. They were the first in line at Toys R Us, which opened at 10 p.m. on Thursday, two hours earlier than last year.
Had they waited, they wouldn’t have been so fortunate. By the time the toy retailer opened, the line had stretched beyond Hobby Lobby.
Maldonado, of Nettleton, and Spradlin, of Mantachie, arrived at the store at around 5 p.m., when the temperature was in the 70s. An hour later, after a storm front had passed, the temps were in the 50s, but they had come prepared with jackets and umbrellas.
Maldonado, taking part in her first-ever Black Friday, was after a $79 laptop.
“I’m usually working, so this is my first time to experience it,” she said with a smile.
On the other hand, Spradlin was seasoned pro.
“Yes, I was here last year,” she said. “And I have a whole list.”
“We’ll do anything for kids,” Maldonado said.
Down the road at The Mall at Barnes Crossing, lines started forming a little bit later. But with some stores opening at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., there were several shoppers ready at midnight.
“I am an absolute idiot to be waiting in the cold and rain,” said Stephen Cooke, who said his wife was at Walmart. “But once the shopping’s done, I get to watch football the rest of the weekend. I guess it balances out.”
In downtown Tupelo, a joint marketing effort by merchants was paying off on Friday.
“It has been fantastic,” said MLM Clothiers co-owner Jimmy Long. “We have had a huge day today. It was probably the best Black Friday we’ve had in at least five years. I think people are figuring out the quality of our merchandise.”
Barbara Fleishhacker, owner of the Main Attraction, also liked the Black Friday crowd she had seen early in the day.
“It has been excellent,” she said. “We had a line at 8 a.m. People were nice to wait … We had about 50 people between 8 and 9, and another crowd between 9 and 10. Do you see the smile on my face?
“When the doors opened I was standing in here in a little state of shock because of how many people were in here.”
At Reed’s department store, traffic was steady throughout the day.
“We have been extremely busy,” said Krista Blanchard, the store’s contemporary buyer. “It has been covered up since we walked in the door this morning.”
The Mall at Barnes Crossing also was covered up for most of the day, Mall General Manager Jeff Snyder said.
Snyder said although the mall opened at 6 a.m., several retailers did so as early as 3 a.m.
“The biggest thing to note today was the extreme early hours that customers were here,” Snyder said, noting that several retailers had hit their expected monetary goal by 9 a.m.
As of 5 p.m., Snyder said the mall had seen a 10 percent increase in traffic over last year. Based on historical data, he estimated it would see a total of 80,000 vehicles before closing at 10 p.m., which would be the largest Black Friday crowd in its 20-year history.
“Even the stores that didn’t offer Black Friday sales were really showing strong days,” he said.
Chris Kieffer contributed to this story. Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal