It could have been any other holiday retail night instead of a night of some shopping firsts in Columbia.
Thanksgiving in stores offered typical fare: Happy toddlers in strollers greeting strangers with “Hi.” Michael Buble’s jazzy rendition of “Let It Snow” seeping from the intercom. Young girls and families eyeing the best buys. Impatient shoppers being, well, impatient. Young guys checking out girls.
“We’re just browsing,” said 22-year-old Caden Steiner, pausing to add, “the females.”
Teenage girls, as usual, were the bulk of the holiday mall crowd.
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But make no mistake: Shoppers who headed out Thursday night after Thanksgiving feasts were in the market for big discounts offered ahead of Black Friday. And at Columbiana Centre, they had even more time to shop, with some 35 stores pulling all-nighters, staying open from 6 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.
For Lisa Fowler, two daughters and a cousin, the Thursday night spree at Columbiana was a pre-emptive strike on their normal Friday morning holiday shopping ventures. “I like the hustle and bustle, bumping shoulders,” said Fowler, 48. “I enjoy that.”
She and daughters Bre, 23, and Alexis, 19, said lines were long. But they expected larger crowds. One thing was as expected, Bre Fowler said: “People that don’t have manners.”
All but 17 of the mall’s roughly 95 stores opened Thanksgiving night, mall manager Andy Peach said.
Chick-fil-A and Altered States opted to stay closed for faith-based reasons, Peach said. Dillard’s is the largest store to have held onto traditional hours. It will open early Friday.
Others who closed decided the extra hours would not prove to be big for cash registers.
But the halls in the northwest Columbia mall looked like any busy weekend.
Belk department store seemed to attract the largest crowds with discounts on shoes and a range of other merchandise, Peach said. The store’s aisles were jammed, and some sale tables had been picked down to a less-precious few items.
At Kay jewelry store, manager Tiffany Benenhaley had about half her normal staff working Thursday night. “I know that at this location, this is the first time we’ve been open (on Thanksgiving night). I want to say this (also) is a corporate thing.”
Most of Benenhaley’s customers had made payments on their accounts rather than ring up new purchases.
Still, Kay’s was staying open until 1 a.m. and would reopen Friday at 6 a.m., she said.
“They’re looking for the best deals,” Benenhaley said. “I think Thanksgiving is becoming the new Black Friday.”
At the Harbison Boulevard Toys R Us just before 10 p.m., parents shopped with toddlers asleep on their shoulders. As Thanksgiving night sales continued, the crowd looked to be the size of a typical holiday shopping season, except there were no lines at the registers.
By 10:30 p.m. at nearby Best Buy, crowds had thinned, but many shoppers still stalked the aisles.
Store manager Wesley Pritchard said discounts on TVs and digital cameras have drawn lots of customers, especially since inventories are up on the newest technologies such as ultra high-definition TVs and the latest versions of Xbox and PlayStation.
The nation’s retailers, expecting what forecasters believe will be a lackluster holiday shopping season, have launched big sales promotions earlier than ever before. Holiday sales traditionally account for up to 40 percent of a store’s annual sales.
Still, retail analysts say an improving economy bodes well. Income, wage and job growth are trending upward. Debt levels are at historic lows. Stock market gains, rising home prices and recent big reductions in gas prices all may boost spending, some forecasters say.