Healthy shopper turnouts in local stores on both Thanksgiving Day and "Black Friday" have retailers here smiling, more than a dozen interviews by The Greeneville Sun indicated Friday.
Store managers or other representatives spoke optimistically about the rest of the holiday shopping season, based on numbers they saw Thursday and Friday.
Retailers said Thanksgiving Day crowds serve to complement Friday's traditionally high sales.
According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) holiday consumer spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, 52.8 percent of Americans had already started their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving Day, up from 51.4 percent last year.
"Like pumpkin pie and football, Thanksgiving Day shopping is quickly becoming a holiday tradition for millions of Americans," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a news release.
NRF estimates that holiday sales will increase by 4.1 percent this year, to $586 billion.
The organization's holiday sales forecast is based on an economic model using indicators such as housing data, unemployment figures, and previous monthly retail sales reports.
The forecast includes anticipated retail industry sales from both November and December.
"Steady streams of shoppers have already flooded outlets, malls and other stores throughout the country and shopped online from the convenience of their couch to kick off the holiday seaso," Shay said.
"It's evident retailers' promotions have really struck a chord with those looking for the perfect gift - either for themselves or for others," he added.
Customers lining up Friday afternoon at checkout counters at Kmart in the Greeneville Commons shopping center had their hands full.
"It's going good. This morning it started slow, but it picked up, and it's been happy ever since," said Karl Banner, a Kmart assistant manager.
Kmart tried a new Thanksgiving strategy this year. The store was open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and then reopened its doors at 8 p.m. with a whole new array of specials on popular products such as flat-screen televisions.
Banner counted 395 people waiting to get into Kmart at 8 p.m. Thursday.
"We had some featured items for the morning of Thanksgiving and others for [the evening hours]," Banner said
"It seemed like everything went real good. I think a lot of people enjoyed that 8 o'clock time."
The crowds Thursday did have some impact on the "Black Friday" turnout, but not to a negative degree, Banner said.
"I think [having the open hours on Thanksgiving Day] was better for business," he said.
In addition to televisions, other popular sale items included cameras, digital tablets and GPS systems. There were specials for every budget range, Banner said.
The steady flow of customers Thursday and Friday has him anticipating good things over the next few weeks.
"I'm really thinking that this year will be better than last year," he said. "People will get out and do more shopping this year."
Banner said customers can order sale items from Kmart online and then pick them up at the store at their convenience.
"That's been a very big success," he said.
'SEEING WHAT'S NEW'
But many people still enjoy shopping in person.
"They like just walking up and down the aisle and seeing what's new on the market," Banner said.
Even some shoppers who arrived too late for advertised specials Friday weren't overly disappointed.
Reeda Hartman, a member of Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church, was picking up a boombox for a gift to be given to a young person on the Coal Fund list.
"I found it, but it went off sale at 11 a.m. so I had to pay full price," Hartman said. "It was pretty crowded, but I went through the line pretty quick."
Hartman isn't one of those who enjoys early-morning bargain-hunting.
"I'm not much to do that. My kids went last night and stayed [out shopping] all night," she said. "I missed all that."
Kenneth Bowser and his wife, Angelena, were also content to go shopping Friday afternoon. They found some sale items to take home, including clothing that will end up under the Christmas tree.
"Everything was good. We didn't have too long a wait," he said. "We come down when it's less busy."
For the most part, customers have been courteous to fellow shoppers, Banner noted.
"People have been very understanding and patient so far," he said.
Outside Big Lots across the U.S. 11E Bypass from Greeneville Commons on Friday afternoon, Vicki Hardwick and her 11-year-old daughter, Tori Pennell, were pleased with their purchases.
"We started a little late this morning," Hardwick said. "We bought odds and ends. We got a little bit of everything."
Thanksgiving Day shopping, Hardwick said, "helps with the madhouse situation."
"Nobody's fighting over anything. They're just in there shopping," she said. "We're just looking for good bargains and sales."
Big Lots has the same business hours this year as in 2011.
"So far, it's about the same as last year, " Big Lots Manager Junior Morrow said Friday.
Popular items include Internet tablets, MP3 players and Christmas-related items, including trees.
"It's just all Christmas," Morrow said.
Big Lots shoppers have been respectful of others, he said. "We haven't had any problems at all."
At nearby Tractor Supply Co., employee Josh Carner was helping load a bench storage chest in the back of Joe Denton's car as Denton's 4-year-old grandson, Cobran Massey, looked on.
The bench storage chest was for the porch at Denton's other property near Gatlinburg. It's a Christmas present of sorts for Denton and his wife.
Meanwhile, he said, he's gearing up for the holiday shopping season.
"It's just now starting," he said. "I get up early and look for bargains."
Denton plans to spend about as much as last year on gifts.
"I guess Christmas is for the kids," he said, as 4-year-old Cobran smiled in agreement.
"He wants two motorcycles," Denton said.
Store manager Eric Goward said Friday that business at Tractor Supply has been steady.
Tractor Supply was not open on Thanksgiving Day, but shoppers filled the store on Friday. Tractor Supply opened at 6 a.m.
"It's going great!" Goward said.
There were sales on safes, one of the biggest sellers this year, Goward said.
"You've got to have one of these nowadays," he said.
Goward is confident this will be a good holiday shopping season.
"Based on what I'm seeing, it's great," he said.
THE SHOE DEPT.
Shoppers were busy checking out various types of footware Friday at The Shoe Dept., at 2345 East Andrew Johnson Hwy. The store opened at 7 a.m.
The store had "great sales" that brought in customers, General Manager Boone Lethco said.
One of the most popular gift items is tennis shoes, he noted.
"The main attraction seems to be the tennis shoes. That's what everyone is buying today," he said.
Sale items help draw shoppers into the business, located in the former Blockbuster store.
"It's going great! It's a little bit over last year," Lethco said. "The customers are great. They seem to be a little jolly."
There's a noticeable difference in the mood of shoppers this holiday season, he said.
"Last year, you could just sense it in the air," Lethco said. "If your sales are down for 'Black Friday,' it tends to say you're down for the season."
If Friday was any indication, it will be a good year at The Shoe Dept., Lethco said.
"We are up. The doors are revolving," he said. "You just look at the expressions on [customers'] faces. They're all smiling."
Most every merchant in the Greeneville Commons was feeling the enthusiasm of Christmas as shoppers converged on businesses there on Friday.
At Belk, the holiday spirit began at the stroke of midnight, as the department store opened earlier than ever before to give shoppers a full day and night of "Black Friday" opportunities.
Just over four hours prior to opening, the shoppers had begun to line up outside the doors, with at least 350 people joining the long line before the doors opened, according to Store Manager Amye Hamilton.
"It was insane!" she said, laughing and happy on Friday despite the long hours. "I mean, you couldn't walk [for the crowded aisles in the store]. It was fun for us. It was a lot of fun!"
Sharing in the fun especially were the first 250 shoppers to walk through the big glass doors of the department store; they all received gift cards, one of which was valued at $1,000.
Over 300 "Early Bird" deals greeted shoppers inside from midnight through 1 p.m., with extra discounts during the earlier hours.
"Very positive! We've had a really good trend throughout the day," Hamilton said in an interview at mid-morning.
"I think it's going to be a good holiday season. It's very encouraging, very positive."
While she said she hadn't yet had the opportunity to crunch any numbers, Hamilton said she believed the Belk midnight opening had been in good timing with other major retailers that opened Thursday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively.
At least one thing remained the same this year, however -- the popular items on everyone's shopping list: boots, small electronics, denim and sweaters.
The weather's recent turn to cooler temperatures was just the prompt that Belk needed to place these winter items on sale, Hamilton said.
Becky Fillers was browsing through the leather goods at mid-morning, a new purse to purchase in one hand and boots in the other.
While Fillers, of Greeneville, said that she normally doesn't brave "Black Friday," she explained that she decided to do so this time with specific items in mind based on advertisements she had seen in The Greeneville Sun.
"The boots -- mainly the boots," she said, with a glance down at the pair she had already selected.
Still, she said, getting to those items was not, in her opinion, worth the hours-long wait to get in the door early that she witnessed some others undertake.
"Too much!" she said. "I don't want boots that much."
Nonetheless, there were plenty of others who did want boots enough to take on substantial waits, and many of them appeared in line waiting for Friday's 6 a.m. opening of JCPenney, also in the Greeneville Commons.
Store Manager Bridget Bishop said she was very pleasantly surprised by the line of waiting customers that greeted her from both store entrances.
"It's been surprisingly super great!" she said.
"Black Friday" is now JCP's only sale of the year as the result of a change to an "everyday low prices" marketing approach, Bishop explained, and she said customers were responding in droves.
This year, instead of the popular, free snow globes from years past, JCP is offering buttons with codes on the back that have drawn several customers back into the store after they entered the codes online and found they could receive discounts, Bishop noted.
She said she believed the store's 6 a.m. opening on Friday to have been right on time to catch those customers that may have gone to Johnson City for the Thursday openings there and made their way back to Greeneville for "Black Friday."
"Our local people came back here," she said.
Once in the store, customers grabbed for the discounted scarves, clothing and luggage.
In the winter wear section, the Laws family, including Melissa, Max and their four-year old daughter, Emma Grace, were just wrapping up their Christmas shopping.
"I'm pretty much done," Melissa said, grinning. "I'm done!"
Her husband just shook his head in amusement, noting that she had been out shopping since 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
By the time the couple made it to JCP in Greeneville, it was shortly after noon on Friday.
Melissa, however, was still bright-eyed and clearly loving every minute, sharing stories of coordinating shopping over the phone with friends and family.
"We didn't not get anything we were after," she said.
That doesn't count, however, the several small appliance items she woke up at 5 a.m. Thursday to add to her JCP online "shopping cart," only to watch them disappear as they sold out online before she finished making her purchase.
That didn't keep her from completing her list, though, and she happily announced that once she made it back home, she was going to start wrapping the gifts to put under the family's already-decorated Christmas tree.
At Burke's Outlet, at the Greeneville Commons, the crowds of shoppers arriving before the doors opened prompted Manager Audrey Pope to open the doors 30 minutes earlier than planned -- at 5:30 a.m.
By sometime after noon on Friday, she was still standing working the cash register and hadn't moved from that position for over six hours, she said.
"It's going great!" Pope said. "Greeneville is being good to us right now."
In fact, she said her numbers so far were ringing in better than last year's, and the Greeneville store was even getting better sales than the Burke's Outlet in Pigeon Forge.
Her hot-ticket items for the day included 50 mp3 players that sold out within the first hour, as well as other small electronics items and cookware.
"It's been great! It's just going to get better by the day," she said, surveying her busy line of cash registers.
Customers, she added, seem positive, happy, and well into the Christmas spirit.
BOB'S FACTORY OUTLET
That same positive outlook and Christmas cheer were almost palpable inside Bob's Factory Outlet, where Christmas decorations brighten the store and laughter literally rang out from the customers.
"So far, it's been good," owner Bob Weaver said on Friday afternoon. "Seems like people I've talked to are in a pretty good frame of mind. Our customers have been pretty positive here lately."
In fact, he said he even saw a great day of sales on Wednesday as customers purchased some big-ticket items.
On Friday, he opened at 8 a.m. and said his best flow of traffic was holding steady from 10 a.m. and likely would continue to do so until close at 6 p.m.
Cookware, a swivel sweeper, and recliners, especially one that is child-sized, were among his best sellers, he said, adding that heaters have also gone well.
Mesh decorating ribbon was also flying off the shelves, he added, estimating that he would sell between 800-900 rolls at Friday's deeply discounted price.
"We've had a good day in both stores," Weaver said, referencing both his East Andrew Johnson Highway and Asheville Highway locations.
"Today, if we continue like we are now, we'll probably have a 30 percent increase from the last year," he said, a smile clearly present in his voice.
LEGACY FINE JEWELERS
"We have had a very steady sales day [Friday]," said Faye Barnes, co-owner of Legacy Fine Jewelers in the Greeneville Commons.
Barnes reported that Pandora charms and bracelets were selling briskly, and colored diamonds -- champagne, yellow, and black -- were especially popular.
Legacy Fine Jewelers opened at 9:00 a.m. Friday instead of the regular 10:00 a.m. and although there was not a line, there were several customers who came in shortly after nine, she said.
ANDERSON'S FINE JEWELRY
Dick Anderson, of Anderson's Fine Jewelry & Gift Distributors, on Bernard Avenue, said that his store opened an hour early for "Black Friday" this year and had several customers.
"There was a lull around lunch time," said Anderson, "but business picked back up in the afternoon."
He mentioned the popularity of the alternatives to gold -- the Titanium and stainless steel jewelry -- and he also noted that black and blue diamonds were popular.
"As usual, we sell bridal jewelry this time of year," he said.
GREENEVILLE CREDIT JEWELERS
Ronald Rouse, of Greeneville Credit Jewelers, on West Depot Street, reported that business had been regular, and said he was hoping for a good season.
He also noted that Greeneville Credit Jewelers does most of its Christmas business a little closer to Dec. 25.
Roberts Furniture had a busier-than-normal shopping day, Manager Shandy Whittenburg said around noon Friday.
"We've had several customers in today," Whittenburg said. "We're doing no sales tax on 26 months with no interest, so we've been very busy with that."
Bedding products were selling well, a norm for the downtown Greeneville store, Whittenburg said.
Doors opened at the regular 8:30 a.m. time on Friday.
SHIPLEY'S FURNITURE & BEDDING
Tim Shipley, owner of Shipley's Furniture & Bedding, reported "about the normal sale" for his business.
Products were selling at about the same rate as on any other business day, Shipley said, although several mattresses had been sold as of 2 p.m. Friday.
The downtown business opened at its regular 10 a.m. time.
In accordance with company policy, managers at the Greeneville Walmart SuperCenter declined to comment on either "Black Friday" sales or general crowd flow.
A corporate spokesman said in a telephone interview, though, that, in a nationwide effort to ease "Black Friday" overcrowding, Walmart stores had staggered their sale promotions over three "waves" beginning Thursday evening.
Consistent with other Walmart stores across the country, the local SuperCenter offered some specials at 8 p.m. Thursday, others beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday, and still others beginning at 5 a.m. Friday.
Numerous items were sold at bargain prices at each time period, from tablets and televisions to toys for children.
The corporate spokesman said that, despite a union-organized protest and and an animal-related walk-in demonstration at some Walmart stores around the country, the company had reported its best-ever "Black Friday" sales nationally.
-- Staff Writers Ken Little, Kristen Buckles, Kathy Knight and O.J. Early contributed to this article.