COVINGTON - Retail experts predicted Black Friday sales would be down this year due to the tough economy, but local store managers said they've seen no sign of it.
Business was brisk Friday morning, lines were long and cash registers were ringing up sales as quick as clerks could manage in Newton and Rockdale counties Friday morning.
"Things are absolutely wonderful. I'm seeing a better result this year than last year," said Suzanne Prather, interim store manager at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Conyers.
Prather said people started pouring into the store, which is open around the clock, at 4 a.m. to snatch up toys, electronics and household appliances.
"The lines are moving great. We had some congestion earlier in the morning, but we had every register open and all registers in outlying areas were also running. We had no complaints from our customers. They knew we were doing everything we could," Prather said.
Becky Kirbow of Covington and Tracee Binion and Trina Waid of Birmingham, Ala., said they got some of their best deals at Wal-Mart, finding items that had been abandoned by other shoppers at the checkout line.
The women got to the store at 5 a.m. and by 9 a.m. had made the rounds to Target and Kohl's, as well. They prepared well, having gone through sale papers on Thursday, picking out items they wanted and then prioritizing stores they would visit.
"It's like a sport," said Binion, who said the key is to have a strategy and be organized. She pointed to her shirt, which she said summed up that mentality. It read: "Don't get your tinsel in a tangle."
"It's a war out there," Waid said.
The women said they're all four-star generals at this point, having braved the after-Thanksgiving crowds for years. Binion brought along her two kids, Abby and Alex. This was Alex's first year joining his mom in the shopping chaos.
"We told him, 'You're a cadet right now, but one day you'll be a soldier,'" she said.
The women agreed the economy was not affecting how much they're spending.
"Not the day after Thanksgiving anyway," said Kirbow with a laugh.
But for Cornelia Rhodes of Covington, budget challenges are her top concern as she shops for the holidays.
Rhodes said she usually gets out as early as 4 a.m. on Black Friday, but decided to sleep in this year and only plans to make it to a few stores.
"I usually have it full by now," she said, pointing to the back of her SUV, which contained only three or four bags.
Still, even with consumers worried about pinching pennies, retailers said they haven't been disappointed with sales.
There were between 300 and 350 people in line when Kohl's opened at 4 a.m., reported Store Manager Mike Delk.
"We've had some really good traffic," he said.
Belk in Conyers also had a line about 300 people strong upon opening at 5 a.m., according to a manager who would not give her name and would not discuss sales.
Likewise, Kmart in Covington had a line of about 150 people when it opened at 6 a.m., according to Manger Don Buckner.
"Yesterday's sales were a big increase compared to last year, and we're beating last year's figures so far today," he said.
Goody's Manager Dennis Lippert said the store in Covington, which also opened at 4 a.m., was seeing sales on par with last year, as well.
Black Friday received its name because it historically was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year. But this year, with rampant promotions of up to 70 percent off sales throughout the month amid a deteriorating economy, the power of the landmark day for the retail industry could be fading, according to retail experts.
Still, while it isn't a predictor of holiday sales, the day after Thanksgiving is an important barometer of people's willingness to spend for the rest of the season. And particularly this year, analysts will dissect how the economy is shaping buying habits in a season that many predict could see a contraction in spending from a year ago.
Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp.
The group hasn't released estimates for Black Friday sales this year, but experts believe it will remain one of the season's biggest selling days, even as shoppers remain deliberate in their spending.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.