By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The tents were going up, but most of the people were elsewhere.
Mark Sims and Steve Bishop of Chapin, S.C., were among those setting up tailgating facilities Friday afternoon – an earlier-than-usual opportunity because the University of Mississippi was closed for the holiday week.
“The wives said ‘Get down there,’” Sims said of the task. His son, Hayden, is a freshman at Ole Miss, and the families of Clemson fans are now rabid Grovers.
“We had my brother down here for the Auburn game,” he said. “He made 50 phone calls to his buddies from here: ‘Y’all aren’t going to believe it; I can’t even explain it!’”
Even though tailgaters for tonight’s Egg Bowl – the annual game with arch rival Mississippi State University – could set up starting Friday morning, the day’s brisk weather precluded any chance of back-to-back days on campus. A lot of the folks who’ll be in the Grove today and at the game tonight (with a 6 p.m. kickoff) were exploring Oxford’s other favorite pastime – shopping.
Judy Owen of Nashville was lunching and getting ready for an assault on shops with her granddaughters, Annie and Corinne Owen.
“We were all coming shopping, but parts of the family were blessed with the stomach virus, and the others are going to the hunting camp,” she said. Today, the attention turns to tailgating and football.
“I don’t go to the Grove anymore,” said Judy Owen, whose husband, Sam, was on the legendary 1962 Rebel team. “But I go to all the games.”
Steve and Sandra Bateman of Laurel got to Oxford on Thursday.
“We’re shopping and going to the game,” Steve Bateman said. “We’re a house divided: I went here; she went to Mississippi State. We get along 364 days a year.
“We’re spending our time on the Square and around Oxford. It’s got a lot to offer.”
Even townsfolk were out for Friday’s opening of the Christmas shopping season. Gary and Carolyn Carter had their son and daughter-in- law from Flagstaff, Ariz., in town.
“We’re trying to show them all the good parts of Oxford, because we hope eventually they’ll move back.
Carolyn Carter said, “It was in single-digits there and snowing, and they’ve been sending messages back to their friends that we were sitting out on the back deck at 72 and beautiful (Thanksgiving Day), so they’re going to have a lot of enemies when they get back home.”
Patricia Carter was taken with Oxford’s downtown.
“I just like walking around the Square,” she said. “We don’t have anything like this in Arizona, so I’m just acting like a tourist.”
Many merchants found the Black Friday crowds rewarding.
“It’s much busier than a normal ballgame Friday,” said Square Books owner Richard Howorth. “We opened at 7 o’clock this morning, and we had a lot of traffic between 7 and 9 to take advantage of our discount and our offer of free coffee.”
Ashley Mendieta of Amit’s Hallmark on West Jackson Avenue said, “On game weekends we’re usually kind of slow, but today we’ve been really busy. Probably 90 percent of the business we’re doing is Christmas.”
Not every merchant loves Black Friday, though. Jerry Franklin of National Menswear, which specializes in big-and-tall, said a lot of regular customers stay away at home on ballgame weekends.
“When we had that store in Tupelo, Black Friday was the biggest day of the year, but over here, I’ll have 20 days in December that are better than today,” he said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.