By JB Clark and Riley Manning
TUPELO – When shoppers arrived at The Mall at Barnes Crossing on Friday morning for Black Friday shopping, many were surprised to see a quiet mall with few crowds.
Mall General Manager Jeff Snyder said most of the stores in the mall did the better part of their Black Friday business between 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and 2:30 a.m. Friday, since the stores opened four hours before they did last year.
“We got here at about 4 this morning, which is early for us,” said Alyse Martin, of Clinton, who shopped after visiting family. “It was so empty and it was great. We’re almost finished already at 9.”
Snyder called the waves and lulls in customers “shift shopping.”
“On Friday it picked back up again around 8 a.m. and was wide open until at least 2:30 p.m.,” he said. “Then around 5 p.m., we have the crowd coming into town for dinner and a movie.”
Tracy Newell and her sister Kim Collins said they were happy to get their Black Friday shopping done without the crowds.
“We didn’t expect it to be this calm,” Newell said. “In past years there have been long lines and nowhere to park. This year we parked in the first space.”
Yellow Lovebirds was overwhelmed with mall shoppers starting about 8 p.m. Thursday.
“From opening until the wee morning hours we had more than we expected,” said owner Carrie Hancock. “It was steady from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m., like a Saturday. The line was backed from the counter to the back of the store for a solid three hours.”
Snyder said 43 percent of the mall’s traffic target for Black Friday was reached by 6 a.m. Friday and most of the managers he spoke with had reached, or gotten very close to reaching, the day’s sales goals by 5 p.m. He also said shoppers seemed happier with the earlier opening times, which meant they could shop in the early morning hours but could also finish before midnight.
Downtown, retailers took varied approaches to the shorter shopping season.
Reed’s Department Store opened its mall location from 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving until 9 p.m. Black Friday, while the downtown location opened from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Black Friday only.
“At the end of the day,” said Reed’s owner and president Jack Reed Jr., “the mall and downtown will make about the same. Our job is to be available to customers when they want to shop, and our employees have had fun being part of the Black Friday experience.”
Corey Chunn, general manager of Shoe Country, said they try to make deals more drastic to draw in customers.
“We’re definitely up from last year,” Chunn said. “We had a great afternoon crowd of people who stayed up to shop last night, then slept in late and were out for more. After this weekend, we’ll mark our inventory lower and make our days bigger to make up for the short season.”
Though a 26-hour Black Friday workday might have meant more work for retailers, it has lightened the load on local law enforcement. The “shift shopping” crowds Snyder described loosened the road congestion common to the big shopping day.
“I’d go out on a limb and say today has been a little slower than a regular Friday, at least as far as the evening shift goes.” said Lt. Brian Brown with the Tupelo Police Department. “But even the day shift reported only four or five accidents, which is very few. Staggering the store openings was probably the best thing that could have happened. It’s been a real godsend.”