Rick Wagner • Nov 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Judging by early morning customer lines and sales predictions, Black Friday 2007 was a huge hit in the Model City.

“I think we’ll have a double-digit increase over the same day last year,” predicted Kevin Harmon, general manager of the Fort Henry Mall. “You can’t end well if you don’t start well.”

The mall, under new ownership this year with renovations planned to start next year, has specialty tenants in place just for the holidays plus a new permanent tenant, the Shoe Depot, which opened near Sear’s on Nov. 17.

The unofficial kickoff to the Christmas holiday season, Black Friday is not always the heaviest shopping day of the year but in some recent years has been, started at 4 a.m. with the opening of Kohl’s and Old Navy at Kingsport Pavilion and J.C. Penney and Aeropostale in the Fort Henry Mall. Historically, for some retailers, Black Friday marks the switch from being in the red or losing money to being in the black or making a profit for the year.

Many stores will continue throughout the weekend with door-buster and early-bird specials.

“They (customers) started lining up in front of the store at 1:30 a.m.,” said Matt Klucher, one of the “team leaders,” or store manager, of the Target at the Kingsport Pavilion, a new strip mall on East Stone Drive. He said Kohl’s customers lined up around the building before the Kohl’s 4 a.m. opening, while Target customers lined up past Kohl’s for the 6 a.m. Target opening.

Goody’s and Office Depot at East Stone Commons opened at 5 a.m., as did KB Toys, which drew a long line of customers. Kmart, the two Kingsport Lowe’s, Home Depot, Radio Shack in the mall and Big Lots near the mall each opened at 6 a.m.

Matt Barnett, store manager of Circuit City, said chainwide the retailer limited the number of people entering stores at the same time and the total number in the store for fire safety reasons.

“I’d say in a couple of years, there’ll be somebody that opens at midnight,” Barnett said.

However, for some shoppers, Black Friday — or at least the waiting in line for Black Friday — started even earlier than midnight.

James Phillips was in line at Circuit City off Stone Drive at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, part of a plan his father — Mayor Dennis Phillips — said was to get deals on a laptop computer, 32-inch television and 19-inch television.

The younger Phillips succeeded, and the elder Phillips was in line at Circuit City before 8 a.m. with some deals of his own: three combination DVD players and VCR units.

Later, about 10:20 a.m., Phillips joined the Shop Kingsport Patrol near the entrance to Target.

The program, the brainchild of the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented a $100 gift certificate from the Carriage House custom framing downtown to Kathy Casey of the Rock Springs community near Kingsport.

Casey and her son, Josh Davenport, had started their shopping at 6 a.m. at the Fort Henry Mall.

“I was at the mall at 6 o’clock, then I came here,” Casey said of her shopping, which included toys and clothes. “I used to go to Johnson City, but now I just stay here because there’s more here.”

Jud Teague, executive director of KCVB, said the program started in September, and Friday marked its second giving of a gift certificate.

The plan is to give one out four or five times a year, with another planned before Christmas. The first gave certificates to the mall and theater, so Teague said the prizes will vary.

Three friends on a Black Friday shopping spree just missed the short ceremony for Casey. Mary Ann Davis and Nikki Collier of the Surgoinsville area and Caren Bates of Cookeville — but formerly of Surgoinsville — have a tradition of shopping for bargains together every Black Friday.

“We just have fun,” said Bates, in the area visiting family. “Now that I don’t live here, it’s my chance to spend the day with them.”

Harmon of the mall said Black Friday shopping has become a tradition, extended this year because an early Thanksgiving means an extra week between Black Friday and Christmas. His staff gave out 500 gift bags at 6 a.m. in short order. And Meliss Hale of Kingsport in an early afternoon mall drawing won one of the Nintendo Wii gaming consoles in short supply for the second holiday season in a row.

“This is more of a traditional friends and family shopping day,” Harmon said. “You don’t see many people out here by themselves.”

Davis, Collier and Bates, longtime friends and classmates at Volunteer High School, were searching mostly for electronics and toys, but Bates missed a 42-inch LCD TV at Wal-Mart on West Stone Drive for $799.

Unlike some stores, Wal-Mart stayed open overnight, but Bates said a line longer than the supply of TVs had formed by the time Bates got there, before associates took black plastic off the door-buster specials.

The trio also had shopped at the mall and were contemplating lunch.

“We have to have a good lunch,” Collier said.

Bates said they also used to go to the Country Christmas Show at Viking Hall in Bristol but don’t anymore.

Other Friday morning shoppers were Pam and Ken Elliott of Lawrenceville, Ga., near Atlanta. They were shopping with her mother and grandson.

“I’m done,” Pam Elliott said. “I’m seeing what’s out there for extra gifts or for next year.”

The Elliotts, who both grew up and used to live in the Kingsport area, said this was their first trip back to Kingsport since the Pavilion had opened.

“I think it’s (Kingsport) getting more like Atlanta,” she said of Kohl’s, Ross and other new-to-Kingsport retailers. “The shopping here is getting a lot better.”

At the nearby Kohl’s, Johnice Quillin of Danville, Ky., was making her first visit to the Pavilion. She and her husband used to live in Kingsport.

“This is a bigger Kohl’s than what they have in Lexington, Kentucky, where we usually shop,” said Quillin, whose husband is a distant cousin of late U.S. Rep. James H. Quillen, R-Kingsport, although the last name is spelled differently.

Quillin was buying some clothes, but mirroring national trends, the mall’s Harmon and Target’s Klucher said electronics are among the hottest items this year, although Harmon said gift cards are also popular.

Many stores that normally don’t sell electronics had digital picture frames, digital cameras and other electronic gadgets.

KB Toys in the mall, which opened at 5 a.m., had video games buy one, get one free. KB sold out of remote-control trains, as did Home Depot. Home Depot also quickly sold a four-piece, 18-volt cordless tool combo for $59 but by midmorning still had 5,000-watt portable gasoline generators for $399 instead of the regular $599.

“With the toy recalls and the climate being warm and not helping the soft lines much, it’s (electronics) been big,” Target’s Klucher said.

Harmon said that although the Pavilion and the 2005 redevelopment of the old Kingsport Mall into East Stone Commons are competition, the larger selection is helping keep people in and attract people to Kingsport to shop.

“I’d rather them go to Target here than go to Target in Johnson City,” Harmon said.

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