Forsyth County merchants are preparing for the annual Thanksgiving weekend shopping crush.
According to a report from the National Retail Federation, some 152 million people nationwide plan to shop Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
That’s up from 138 million who did so during the same period last year.
According to the report, 74 million say they will definitely hit the stores, while another 77 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the crowds.
The shopping frenzy begins early on “Black Friday,” a term that reflects the potential impact on merchants.
In addition to kicking off the holiday shopping season, Friday and the rest of the weekend also help businesses go from red, or unprofitable, to black, or profitable.
Kelly Freese, manager of the Cumming Belk location, said she hopes the store’s numerous promotions will draw large crowds.
“We have 288 early bird specials going from 3 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday,” she said.
Among them are deals on boots, handbags, jewelry, electronics and other items.
The store will also give gift certificates, ranging in value from $5 to $1,000, to the first 288 customers.
Freese said employees at the store in Lakeland Plaza have been preparing for Black Friday for several weeks.
“We’ve been setting up the whole month of November,” she said. “It’s definitely the busiest day of the whole year for any retailer.”
Lisa Mallard, manager of Old Navy on Market Place Boulevard, agreed.
“Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for us,” she said. “We all look forward to it and prepare all year for it.”
She said concentrated preparations have been ongoing for several weeks.
“We started really preparing for it around the end of October,” Mallard said.
Unlike many retailers who close on Thanksgiving, Mallard and her employees will be working from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. today.
“We’ve done that for the past three years or so,” she said. “Everyone who works that day works on a volunteer basis.”
The store will reopen at midnight, staying open nearly 24 hours straight until 11 p.m. Friday.
Like Belk, Mallard said Old Navy will offer a number of promotions starting today and running through the end of the weekend.
Among the sale items are denim, scarves, socks, T-shirts and sweaters. The store will also feature several giveaways.
Both managers say customers should be prepared to face large crowds.
“We had 400 customers waiting before we opened the doors [at 4 a.m.],” Freese said. “We really don’t know what to expect this year.”
Added Mallard: “By 12:30 [a.m.], we reach capacity for the store, so then someone has to let people in and out.”
While they will be busy, Mallard and Freese both said most of their employees embrace the weekend.
“It’s all about having fun and getting customers in,” Mallard said. “We break it up with some fun things [for the employees], like having a luncheon for them.
“Most of them are happy to work the extra hours and actually look forward to it.”
Freese said Belk also caters lunch for employees on Friday and all staffers’ “hours will be maxed out.”
“If you’re in retail, you live for Black Friday,” she said.