Among the happenings Friday at local shopping destinations:
* The Avenue Forsyth will give a complimentary cosmetics bag for customers spending $100 or more between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The center will offer free Santa Claus photos and a carriage ride from 1 to 6 p.m. In addition, many retailers will offer free gifts with purchase, sales and discounted items. Stores open as early as 6 a.m. Friday. Contact (770) 781-0333 or www.shoptheavenue.com.
* North Point Mall will open at 12:01 a.m. Friday for its annual Rockin Shoppin Eve event, with discounts available to early shoppers. There also will be complimentary coffee and hot chocolate, music by a local DJ and a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree. The mall is at 1000 North Point Circle in Alpharetta. Contact: (770) 740-9273 or www.northpointmall.com
* North Georgia Premium Outlets kicks off its Midnight Madness After-Thanksgiving Weekend Sale at midnight Friday. Many of the 140 Dawsonville outlet stores will feature discounts during the center's biggest sale of the year. The center is at 800 Highway 400 South in Dawsonville. Contact: (706) 216-3609 or www.premiumoutlets.com.
Retailers are cautiously optimistic Black Friday will be the silver lining in an otherwise gloomy year of sales.
John Heavener, president of the Georgia Retail Association, said two things are working in favor of retailers for the day after Thanksgiving, historically among the year's busiest days for retailers.
The drop in gas prices will give people optimism, he said, "along with the fact that you're going to see the lowest discounted prices on a Black Friday that you've seen for years."
"I think there's a chance we can match [sales from] last year. That wouldn't be ideal, because last year was down a little bit, but that's what our hopes are."
Unlike previous years, no new gaming systems or technology are being released. Heavener said companies just don't have the money to invest in new product lines.
Like Heavener, Cheryll Tincknell is confident electronics will continue to be top items.
Tincknell, manager of Best Buy in Cumming, said laptops, MP3 players and digital cameras continue to be popular items.
As for sales expectations, she said, "We really have no way of knowing."
"All we can do is hope that we're going to be as busy as we were last year. We're preparing for the best."
One thing Tincknell was certain of: If shoppers are going to buy electronics, it's going to be on Friday.
"Everybody comes on Black Friday," she said. "They'll be lined up out there at noon on Thanksgiving Day. That's when they start lining up. That's when they started lining up last year."
Heavener said it's been a tough year for department stores, which "probably isn't going to change."
"But I think what you are going to see is the lowest prices ever, and I mean ever, from the department stores, so you might see people shop at department stores who might not have otherwise shopped there," he said.
"When all the dust settles, the traditional discounters will still have the best year ... But during the holiday season, you're going to see some gains by the department stores."
Discount stores have fared better than department stores this year, Heavener said, a trend both Wal-Mart and Target are banking on.
"The economy is definitely not as strong as it once was," said Steve Reid, manager of the SuperTarget in Cumming.
"But what we see is guests shopping for values, and Target's going to have plenty of values on Friday and Saturday.
"Target, as a company, has sharpened its price-points on lots of items throughout the store."
Reid said in the electronics department, he expects Blu-ray players to be a hot item this year "as more and more guests choose to move into Blu-ray discs."
Traditional and new toys will continue to be a staple, as will apparel, he said.
Whether sales match those from last year, Black Friday will still be the busiest volume day of the year for Wal-Mart, said manager Russ Hilsher.
"We've got a great Black Friday strategy that we're going to implement on that day," he said. "I think with the values that we've got this year, customers are going to go with the bigger ticket items."
Heavener said because of the economy, one difference this year may be short inventories. For people waiting to do last-minute shopping, the selection will be limited.
But with the low prices on Friday, consumers will want to shop.
"It will be a bargain hunters' day," he said. "You're going to see that across electronics, you're going to see it in clothing, you're going to see it in jewelry, and you're probably going to see it in household goods too.
"You're going to see promotions of all kinds. People are doing layaways now for the first time in years. They're trying whatever they can to bring people in."
And heading into all the frenzied shopping, a word of caution from Cumming Police Chief Mike Eason.
Those taking advantage of big sales over the weekend, Eason said, should be "careful with your gifts and make sure they're secure in your vehicles."
"Don't leave them there for somebody else to shop in your car," he said.
Staff Writer Julie Arrington contributed to this report.