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Lining the lot for sales

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Hundreds of shoppers wait in a line that wraps around the front of the Natchez Mall Thursday night shortly before midnight to get into Belk for the store’s Black Friday sale. The first 250 shoppers through the door received a gift card, one of which was for $1,000.

NATCHEZ — Even though some stores transformed Thanksgiving Day into Black Thursday by moving their traditional doorbuster sales a day earlier, hundreds of Miss-Lou residents still lined up at the Natchez Mall to line up and try to snag a sweet sale at midnight on Black Friday.

The lines began early, when the sun had barely set, and by the time the doors at Belk opened, Bertha Brady of Vidalia had been standing there for five hours and 10 minutes.

Brady had gotten there early, she said, because Belk was handing out gift cards to the first 250 customers through the doors, including one for $1,000.

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Shoppers make their way through the atrium where women’s fashion boots were on sale for $19.99 early Friday morning during Belk’s Black Friday sale.

Though she didn’t have a particular item in mind to buy, Brady said she was hoping to get the big gift card and make this year’s seasonal gift giving a Belk-sponsored Christmas.

And while she was first in line, Brady said she hadn’t planned to be the person who beat everyone else into the store.

“It just happened that way that I was the first one here,” she said. “It was a little frightening at times watching the line stack up.”

Though Brady held the line the longest, she was joined 10 minutes after her arrival by a group of several more, including 10-year-old Candi Gray.

Gray said she had decided to line up and see if any deals could be found for Christmas presents for her family, and she believed what she would find would be worth the long wait.

The people standing in line waiting for hours for the doors to open developed a special sort of camaraderie that Gray said helped her overcome the seasonal weather in which she had to stand.

“At first I was cold, but after a while we were all talking and laughing, and it was OK,” she said.

As midnight approached, the crowd grew and the lines stretched across the front of the mall. A few cheers went up as the crowd got several false starts at the sight of an employee behind a glass door, and a heckler drove by and yelled out the window, “Y’all do know you don’t have to stand out here in the cold — you know you can get this stuff online, right?”

But the shoppers were undeterred by the good-natured mockery, and when the doors opened it took fewer than seven minutes for everyone to get inside and start rummaging across the store.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dominick Myles peeks out from behind the stack of shoeboxes in his cart to talk to his girlfriend and aunts early Friday morning at Belk.

In the mall concourse outside Belk, an area one woman referred to as a “shoe pit” was crowded with hundreds of shoppers trying to find the perfect pair of discounted shoes. After grabbing as many shoeboxes in their desired size as they could, shoppers would slip off into the few areas that were more than standing room only and look through the boxes to see if they had gotten a pair of shoes they wanted and if it really fit.

Some shoppers, however, knew what they had come for and went right to it. Kellie Turner and her mother, Carol Turner, of Tensas Parish said the wait outside was worth it because they had been able to purchase a large-bellied stainless steel cooking pot.

“I knew that it was what I wanted when I came in here,” Carol said. “It will be used to cook gumbo and anything else that you cook in bowls.”

Though the initial midnight frenzy left the store packed, by 12:30 a.m. the crowds were already thinning.

And while Black Friday is a boon for chain stores, local businesses are hoping Small Business Saturday will see the same kind of success.

Sponsored by Alcorn State University, the Natchez Downtown Development Agency, Natchez Inc. and the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Saturday is intended to focus on local business, said Ruth Nichols, Alcorn’s associate vice president for branch and extension campuses.

“We want people to shop at home, shop local, shop small and spend big,” Nichols said.

To encourage that, Nichols said shoppers who buy something in an Adams County small business today can write their name and phone number on the back of the receipt and turn it in at the chamber of commerce or at Natchez Inc. Next week at the chamber’s Friday forum, receipts will be drawn and prizes — things such as Christmas wreaths and coffee mugs — will be given to the winners. Winners do not have to be present at the drawing.

“We are doing this, Small Business Saturday, as a way to say thank you to our friends and neighbors who are our friends and neighbors during the year, but who also need our help during the holiday season,” Nichols said.

Belk Store Manager Mary Flach, left, hands a gift card to 10-year-old Candi Gray, who waited in line with her family from 7 p.m. Thursday night to midnight to get into the store.