OXFORD — Brian Talley could have been deer hunting Friday morning. Instead, his wife sent him down to Target just after sunrise to buy her a new cell phone.
“That must be what true love is,” Talley said.
Talley was among a small knot of people — about a dozen — who waited in front of the Oxford department store just before 7 a.m. Friday, when the store reopened for Black Friday shopping. When the doors opened, Talley didn’t waste any time getting in, but there was no great rush for the door.
There was a time, not so long ago, when one could get a feel for the strength of the economy by watching the Black Friday lines outside the stores — and sometimes the fights inside.
These days, though, there’s no big Friday rush, just a bunch of little rushes. About half of all consumers now do their Christmas shopping online, according to a Harris poll released earlier this year. Big sales and store openings now start on Thanksgiving day, before the turkey is even cold.
The effect was obvious in Oxford’s shopping venues Thursday and Friday, where a line of people would develop at this store or that at the top of every hours, and stores opened — some at 2 p.m. on Thursday, others at 5, others the next morning at various times.
Many were hardcore holiday shoppers, there for the thrill of the hunt, and because it’s what they’ve always done.
“I’m so excited. I do this every year,” said Vickey Suttle of Talladega, one of about 100 people who waited outside JC Penney at early Thursday afternoon, with 53 minutes to go before the store’s opening. Suttle said she enjoys the crowds.
Suttle and others in line were a fount of knowledge about local sales, their timing, and what deals drew the biggest crowds. Low-priced electronics, especially televisions, seemed to be the biggest draw almost everywhere.
The promise of a 65-inch TV for $299 had four young men standing in front of Best Buy at Oxford Commons at 6:45 a.m. Friday, more than an hour before the store opened. Miles Wagner of Oxford said acknowledged that he and the others could have shopped online.
“A lot of people want it now instead of waiting seven days for them to deliver,” he said. Jared Johnson, also of Cider Ridge, claimed his wife broke the couple’s TV and said he was eager to get a new one.
Staggered deals brought some people back more than once. Talley, the Oxford man in line Friday for a phone, said his wife had shopped at the same store on Thanksgiving Day — but sent him back on Black Friday because that’s when phones went on sale.
That sort of spread-out shopping may be a trend. A study by the firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers suggests that only 36 percent of shoppers this year intend to do most of their shopping on Black Friday, down from 51 percent three years ago.
Oxford, which straddles Interstate 20, has long been a draw for holiday shoppers from neighboring counties, and even from rural areas a couple of counties away.
The local shopping mecca still seems to have that pull. Joel Robison of Carrollton, Ga., was among hundreds of people who waited in line at Target for its big holiday opening on Thanksgiving evening.
“I’m just here for the experience,” he said.