Thursday openings made for a profitable Thanksgiving for several local stores, but resulted in somewhat mixed reviews from those stores which waited to open on "Black Friday."
Traditionally, the Friday after Thanksgiving -- often called "Black Friday" -- has been the unofficial kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, with retail stores opening early in the morning and offering special sales designed to draw in huge crowds of Christmas shoppers.
With the attraction of "door-buster" bargains leading the way, the shoppers' Friday-after-Thanksgiving purchases have for many years gone a long way toward helping retailers complete their year "in the black" -- in other words, with a profit.
Thanksgiving openings have been rare, as most businesses closed for the national holiday, and shoppers and retail workers spent the day and evening in family-related activities or in other ways.
This year, however, in a major shift in strategy, a number of major retail chains decided to depart from tradition and open their doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day or evening, with the result that "Black Thursday" this year became serious competition for "Black Friday."
Here in Greeneville/Greene County and elsewhere across Tennessee and the nation, retail stores that decided to open on the holiday reported seeing large crowds and long lines, with overflowing parking lots and busy cash registers.
Business appeared to be booming at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving.
Finding a parking spot was possible but very difficult Thursday evening at the retail giant's Greeneville location on East Andrew Johnson Highway.
Although the store's regular practice is being open 24 hours a day, Wal-Mart's special "Black Thursday/Black Friday" sales were scheduled to start in three phases:
* Phase One -- 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day,
* Phase Two -- 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, and
* Phase Three -- 8 a.m. on Black Friday.
Calls to Wal-Mart management to discuss the Thursday/Friday sales were not immediately returned.
The holiday shopping season got off to a robust start at the local Big Lots, 1475 East Andrew Johnson Hwy.
The Big Lots store in Greeneville was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
The store reopened its doors at 6 a.m. on Friday, with a good crowd on hand, Store Manager Jesse Miller said.
"It's been busy and brisk, basically," Miller said.
It's the second year that Big Lots has been open on Thanksgiving.
Based on customer interest, Big Lots "more than likely" will open again on Thanksgiving in 2014, Miller said.
"It's just very similar to last year's (numbers)," Miller said. "It went really well."
Tablets and other electronic devices have proven very popular with shoppers this holiday shopping season, Miller said.
Next door, Staples was also among stores to open special hours Thanksgiving evening.
Lisa Shelton, manager-on-duty Friday morning, said the store was open from 8 p.m. until midnight.
She said the store was very busy Thursday evening, with a line reaching half-way down the shopping center's sidewalk toward Big Lots waiting for the store to open.
Shelton said that the store sold out of its stock of Amazon Kindle Fire tablets.
Laptop computers were also popular items at the office supply store.
Staples then re-opened at 6 a.m. Friday morning, with many more shoppers taking advantage of special sales.
"It's been good!" Shelton said.
Employees who worked Thursday evening were scheduled for later shifts on Friday.
Those who did not work Thursday evening worked the earlier shift Friday, he said.
The situation was similar at the Greeneville Commons, where on Thursday evening cars swarmed the parking lots of those stores that were opening at 8 p.m. or offering special doorbusters keyed to that start-time.
A crowd began gathering at the entrance to Belk before 6 p.m., and the line stretched almost to Tusculum Boulevard in the minutes just prior to the store's 8 p.m. opening.
Belk offered deals similar to those of prior years, with gift cards for the first customers in the store, plus limited-time sales.
Store managers declined to offer details from the day's sales because of a new corporate policy restricting comments to the news media, it was explained.
Customers weren't in short supply at any time Thursday at Kmart, as the national merchandising chain opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
The store was open from 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day through 11 p.m. on Black Friday, with doorbusters beginning at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving and again at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.
"It was slower in the morning [on Thursday], and things picked up gradually throughout the day," said Store Manager Virginia Leigh Kramer. "We had a very successful evening."
Buisness was also good on Black Friday, Kramer said.
Overall, this year's unofficial start to the holiday shopping season has been "about the same" as last year, she said.
What was selling well?
"It's a variety -- we're selling electronics, toys and kitchenware," Kramer said.
Just across the parking lot in the Greeneville Commons, JCPenney Store Manager Bridget Bishop said that opening for the holiday season earlier than ever before made for a better flow of customers.
"It was extremely smoother this year, spreading out the time frames like that," she said.
There were lines at the doors when the store opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday, and a steady flow of customers that continued until 1 a.m. Friday.
Then, Bishop said, most employees went home to sleep until the morning sales began, although there was another boom in the early morning hours.
"We gave snow globes out at 4 a.m., so we had a real big rush then," Bishop said.
Those 200 snow globes disappeared in no time, along with boots, small appliances, luggage and fine jewelry, Bishop said.
Things slowed down again, before picking back up at 6 a.m. Friday and again around 10 a.m., the manager added.
"It's been really good!" she concluded. "It was about, I guess, what they expected."
At the other end of the Commons, Burke's Factory Outlet held off on opening until 6 a.m. Friday, at which time there was only "a little bit" but "not too much" of a crowd, according to store manager Shawn Lombardo.
"It's going all right," he reported late Friday morning.
The store offered specials on tablets, which sold out, as well as on Bluetooth speakers, toys and small appliances.
Lombardo said that Black Friday sales had definitely been hurt by other stores' opening on Thursday.
"It's not where I'd like it to be at," he said.
Lowe's Home Improvement, at 2375 East Andrew Johnson Hwy., was also closed on Thanksgiving but opened early Friday, at 5 a.m.
Inquiries Friday about the Greeneville store were referred to Lowe's corporate headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.
"We are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In general, our biggest seasonal time is the spring. That is really the 'Christmas season' for the home improvement industry," Lowe's spokeswoman Amanda Manna said.
She said that, for home improvement retailers such as Lowe's, the Christmas holiday shopping season is divided into three "micro-seasons."
The first is "prep and refresh," the second is "gifting" and the third is "storage," which happens after the holidays are over.
Shoppers are in the "prep and refresh" and "gifting" mindsets for the next several weeks, Manna said.
Popular items being sold now at Lowe's include artificial trees, holiday decor and gift items such as tools, she said.
GREENEVILLE CREDIT JEWELERS
Friday was a normal business day at Greeneville Credit Jewelers, located on West Depot Street.
Owner Ronald Rouse reported Friday that the hot-ticket item of the day was diamond earrings.
LEGACY FINE JEWELERS
The Black Friday deals at Legacy Fine Jewelers, located in the Greeneville Commons, drew quite a few customers, according to owners Rick and Faye Barnes.
They opened the store an hour early, at 9 a.m. Friday, to feature Pandora specials.
Those spending $100 on the popular customizable jewelry received a free, limited-edition Pandora bead, a free ceramic Santa, and the choice among 14k gold earrings valued between $75 and $125 at a cost of only $1.
Until noon Friday, the owners also offered $50 gift certificates for $25.
BOB'S FACTORY OUTLET
Sales were also strong at both the Asheville Highway and the E. Andrew Johnson Highway locations of Bob's Factory Outlet.
Store-owner Bob Weaver said he does not open his stores on Thanksgiving, but traditionally opens an hour early on Black Friday, at 8 a.m.
A good number of customers took advantage of special door-buster items, Weaver said.
Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the store advertised special sales on items such as rocker chaise recliners, room-size rugs, mattresses and children's items.
Heaters were also popular, with strong sales Friday, Weaver said.
"It looks like it's going to be a good day," he told the Sun from the Asheville Highway location on Friday morning.
"The [location on the 11E] Bypass has done really good, too," Weaver reported.
Roberts Furniture, located in the Towne Square Shopping Center in downtown Greeneville, had a few customers in the morning hours Friday who made major purchases, but often see most of their business in the afternoons, according to owner Pam Johnson.
The furniture store offered specials on bedding, and Johnson noted that they often sell many recliners and cedar chests around Christmas.
Consumers were busy at Tractor Supply on Black Friday.
"It's going well in terms of making money," a manager said about 10:45 a.m. Friday. "We are slammed."
The outdoors-and-agriculture store opened at 6 a.m. Friday.
BADCOCK HOME FURNITURE & MORE
Sales were also strong at nearby Badcock Home Furniture & More on Friday morning, Store Manager Brian Henriott reported.
The store did not open on Thanksgiving, and typically opens at 10 a.m.
Black Friday plans called for the store to open at 9 a.m., Henriott said, but during a store staff meeting at 8 a.m., customers appeared at the doors ready to shop, so workers decided to start the day even earlier.
In addition to numerous sale items advertised in days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, Black Friday shoppers received an additional 10 percent off everything in the store, Henriott said.
In addition to living room furniture and appliance sales, electronics proved popular.
"This morning, we've already sold a number of electronics," he reported.
Strong Black Friday sales followed a month-long trend for the store as well, he said.
"This month has been real positive. Everybody's getting into the holiday season and the spirit of things!" Henriott stated.
Staff members contributing to this article include Kristen Buckles, Sarah Gregory, Kathy Knight, Ken Little, and O.J. Early.