By Kim West
Local officials reported all went smoothly as shoppers swarmed stores during the long holiday weekend.
The Athens and Madison police departments were prepared for the onslaught of bargain-hunters on Thanksgiving night and maintained heavy patrols in high-traffic areas, such as the Walmart and Target shopping centers and along U.S. 72.
“It was busy, but we didn’t have any problems,” said Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson. “It was busy in town, and the traffic out on 72 was pretty heavy. But as far as problems, we didn’t have any.
“We had zone coverage with our regular units, plus (Walmart) had hired some extra officers. We tried to patrol all of the parking lots and have good visibility.”
The Madison Police Department also used a heavy-visibility strategy to handle the overflowing crowds and dense traffic.
“We didn’t have any issues in the city of Madison, and we really tried to make sure we had enough officers who were visible and accessible to deter that kind of activity,” said Madison police Capt. John Stringer. “We probably had about 10 officers, and we scheduled special details in the parking lot. We wanted to make sure traffic flowed and to monitor any possible criminal activity in the Target and Walmart areas.”
The Alabama Retail Association has predicted 4-percent growth for holiday sales in November and December, according to ARA Director of Public Relations Nancy Dennis.
“It was a good weekend, and we saw a shift in shopping times because of stores opening earlier Thursday,” Dennis said. “Some retailers told me that it was their busiest Black Friday weekend ever, and some others said it was just a good weekend. I had one retailer that doesn’t even do any Black Friday promotions who said business went up 5 percent this year.”
The shopping weekend has expanded to include Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, in addition to the traditional Black Friday.
“It’s really become a five-day shopping event starting Thursday, and it goes through Monday,” Dennis said. “This trend actually started back in 2009, and more and more stores have started opening at 8 p.m. Thursday. Some stores, such as Kmart, have been open all day on Thanksgiving for years.”
Dennis said the sales outlook for Cyber Monday is $1.5 billion nationally and about $22.5 million in Alabama.
“We expect sales to come in spurts (Monday), and some people will shop online before work, some will shop while at the office and others will wait until early evening,” Dennis said.
Local retailers reported better Black Friday sales than in 2011.
“We had a really good day with above-average sales — everyone seemed to be out, and we did a lot of free gift-wrapping,” said Cory Bennett, who has co-owned Bennetts Clothing in downtown Athens for nearly 20 years. “We had the same hours, but we doubled our normal staff, especially with the gift-wrapping.
“We sold a lot of outdoor items, such as Drake Outdoors, Patagonia and Southern Tide, and the ladies were buying all boots — Frye boots and Ugg boots — and North Face jackets.”
Bennett said sales continued to be strong into Saturday as well.
“We used our normal hours Saturday, but it was a good day as well with a really good turnout,” he said. “We stayed pretty even through the Alabama-Auburn game, and downtown had a good crowd. Sales were definitely up from last year.”