RALEIGH, N.C. — This weekend could prove damaging to your credit card as consumers begin the holiday shopping season.
After-Thanksgiving sales brought out early risers Friday hoping to take advantage of bargains and other special offers to get their Christmas shopping under way.
Lisa Bedsole brought her family from Newport, about three hours southeast of Raleigh, on Thanksgiving Day to shop at first light Friday morning at Crabtree Valley Mall. For the third year in a row, she bypassed the smaller towns of New Bern, Kinston, Greenville and Goldsboro in search of the best deals she could find.
"We don't have shopping centers like this where we're from," she said. "The shopping, there's no comparison. This is it."
Bedsole was searching for a bicycle and a toy doctor's kit.
"My family and I come here, and we literally divide and conquer," Bedsole said. "We spread out, and everybody's in different places getting the best deals."
At the head of the line outside the Toys R' Us store at the Crabtree annex was Dave Brickley, who was sure of one thing.
"I don't have to do this again between now and Christmas," he said.
Brickley had a list - and a spending limit.
"The wife is a CPA. I have a budget," he said.
After months of soft sales, the retail industry may get its wish for a healthy holiday season.
"It's been crazy busy since we first opened. I kind of expected it to start getting busy at 10, but it started earlier. The parking lot was busy even when I came in," said Wendy Wozniak of The Body Shop.
Along with the holiday sales, many consumers were faced with the often-daunting task of finding a parking space.
"We were very much dreading it. In fact, we were planning contingency plans of dropping people off and having to park very far away," shopper Diana McNeil said.
For others, the holiday shopping rush was not as bad as it could have been.
"It's busier than normal, but I thought there were going to be a lot more people than this," shopper Edward Jones said.
The Streets At Southpoint spared shoppers from some of the holiday hassle by offering valet parking. Officials said the service was so popular Friday that at one point, they actually ran out of room.
Some shoppers may want to hurry to do their holiday shopping. Wake, Durham, Cumberland and Orange are among 79 North Carolina counties that will raise the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent starting Dec. 1. Nine more counties will do it on New Year's Day.
The General Assembly gave local governments the option to raise the tax to make up for revenue Gov. Mike Easley held back from them. Only 12 of the state's 100 counties have decided to forego a tax increase for now.
With almost $1 billion in sales expected in Wake County, the sales tax hike could generate almost $5 million. The half-cent tax increase would have meant an extra $1.5 million in Durham when looking at last year's figures. With The Streets Of Southpoint now in the picture, experts say that number could soar.
The Thanksgiving shopping weekend may be more myth than reality. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, last year, the holiday weekend accounted for 8.4 percent of holiday sales, but the busiest period was the last week before Christmas, which accounted for 34 percent of holiday sales.