Earliest holiday shopping season in five years starts tonight

There is a little bit of Christmas year-round at today's gift shop.

There is a little bit of Christmas year-round at today's gift shop.

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— The average Thanksgiving dinner totals 2,130 calories.

That means Black Friday shoppers will have to walk 21.3 miles to shed those pounds — about 42,600 steps or roughly 20 times around the halls of Coastland Center mall in Naples.

With many stores and malls opening tonight — some Coastland stores open at midnight and the rest at 6 a.m. Friday — shoppers can get a head start whittling off the pounds by joining the crowds of early shoppers.

"It was packed last year," said Melissa Wolf, the mall's marketing manager, adding that slightly more than half the mall's roughly 120 stores will open at midnight. "Obviously, with the addition of H&M and the excitement in the mall, we expect more people this year."

Many area stores and malls will open their doors early for Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. It's so-named because that's when retailers historically turned a profit, seeing their books go from red, losses, to black, a profit.

Not since 2007 has Thanksgiving and Black Friday come this early. As a result, many retailers are taking advantage of the weekend and CyberMonday, when online shopping generally peaks. Last year, CyberMonday shoppers spent $1.028 billion, according to Shop.org.

Three in 10 retailers, or 29 percent, will promote their in-store Black Friday deals by sending mobile alerts, up significantly from the 18.4 percent who planned to last year, according to Shop.org. In addition, 80.6 percent of retailers will use Facebook to alert shoppers to in-store deals, up from 73.7 percent last year.

The average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other items, up roughly $9 from what they actually spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other items, up roughly $9 from what they actually spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Its survey of 9,383 consumers found about 147 million people plan to shop this weekend, slightly less than last year. Of those, 71 million said they'd be making purchases, while 76 million plan to wait and see what retailers have in stores that weekend.

Some retailers aren't waiting for Black Friday to reap the rewards from eager holiday shoppers. Walmart will open at 8 p.m. today, Target an hour later and H.H. Gregg appliance store at 10 p.m. Sears, Kmart and Toys R Us and others plan to open their doors hours after Thanksgiving dinner.

At Coconut Point mall in Estero, Target will open at 9 p.m. today, while Old Navy will open at noon until 7 p.m., reopening hours later, at 3 a.m. Several other retailers will open late tonight or midnight, while others will open their doors at 8 a.m. Friday, according to Tara Beauchesne, the mall's director of marketing.

Miromar Outlets in Estero will open earlier this year, at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

"This is a great weekend, but it's probably our second or third busiest day," said Jeff Staner, Miromar's vice president.

Although Black Friday weekend brings the most shoppers, Staner said December is the outlet's busiest time for holiday sales, with most occurring the Friday and Saturday before Christmas.

Along Naples' posh Fifth Avenue South, many restaurants will offer Thanksgiving brunches, lunches and dinners today. Wind in the Willows boutique always opens on holidays, but other shops will open at 10 or 11 a.m. Friday.

Evening on Fifth, usually a Thursday night draw, will be held Friday, with dining, musical groups, shopping and holiday lights from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., although some stores often remain open past 11 p.m. due to demand, said Lise Sundrla, executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business District.

"We're doing it on Friday this week to support Black Friday," Sundrla said of Evening on Fifth. "This allows people to go to dinner, shop and take advantage of the entertainment. Fifth Avenue has just a great tradition."

Farther north, Waterside Shops will open at 8 a.m. Friday, two hours earlier.

"Black Friday and this weekend really gets people in the mood and inspired to shop," said Michele Jacobs, corporate director for Forbes Co., the shopping center's owner and manager.

Three in 10 retailers, or 29 percent, will promote their in-store Black Friday deals by sending mobile alerts, up significantly from the 18.4 percent who planned to last year, according to Shop.org. In addition, 80.6 percent of retailers will use Facebook to alert shoppers to in-store deals, up from 73.7 percent last year.

"This is kind of the kickoff," she said, adding that weekend hours will be extended. "Most of the retailers are making sure they have a lot of great new stock on the floor, really compelling special merchandise."

Like Coastland Center, Waterside Shops has added new stores in past weeks — and more will open by year's end.

Although malls and shopping centers will be packed Friday, shoppers looking for a less-frenzied atmosphere can head to the flea market to support local retailers.

"It is not a shopping holiday bonanza at flea markets or mom-and-pop shops," Gene Vaccaro, general manager at Flamingo Island Flea Market in Bonita Springs, said of Thanksgiving weekend.

Vaccaro noted that every dollar spent at flea markets and mom-and-pop local shops remains here, instead of going to national corporate headquarters, often in another state or country. He maintained it's critical to support small businesses.

"Our economy in the country will be revived with the success of small businesses," Vaccaro said, adding: "There is nobody that represents small business better than the flea markets."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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