Last-minute shoppers pack Kingsport stores

Rick Wagner • Dec 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The day before Christmas Eve in the Model City was marked by crowds of last-minute shoppers.

With schools out and many folks already on vacation, parking lots were busy at Kingsport Pavilion, East Stone Commons and Kingsport Town Center (formerly the Fort Henry Mall) as well as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Big Lots and other retailers.

“Cold weather brings people out and makes them shop,” mall general manager Kevin Harmon said Tuesday afternoon. “It feels like Christmas.”

He said the near single-digit temperatures over the weekend actually seemed to help mall traffic, with folks looking for winter clothing and wanting to shop without going outside to go from store to store.

However, temperatures are on the rise, and today’s forecast calls for highs in the 50s and some rain.

“People tend to come to an enclosed mall when it’s really cold,” Harmon said.

“I am hearing everyone is doing better than their planned budget,” Harmon said when asked about retail sales this holiday season amid a floundering national economy, credit woes and the automakers’ buyout.

“A lot of retailers don’t compare to last year. They compare to budget,” Harmon said.

However, temperatures had warmed by Tuesday, when Betty Loveday and her family made the trip from Dandridge to the mall.

“This is our yearly traditional shopping trip,” Loveday said of her, her sister, her two daughters and her grandchildren coming to shop at the mall and eat at Piccadilly on a Monday or Tuesday before Christmas. “We pick up a few last-minute things.”

She said they were spending about the same as usual, maybe more.

“It seems like I spend more every year,” Loveday said while sitting on a bench near KB Toys.

Meanwhile, people searching for last-minute gifts and bargains went from store to store in the mall, including KB Toys, which won’t be around next Christmas. It started a going-out-of-business sale last week and will close for good in February.

“We’re fortunate to have one of the last ones. They did well here,” Harmon said.

Belk, Sears, B. Dalton, Spencer’s, Zales and Littman’s Jewelers had crowds, as did the Hickory Farms kiosk.

Traffic also was brisk at Target and Kohl’s at the Kingsport Pavilion, and spaces were hard to find at the two Wal-Marts in town.

However, shelves were getting bare at some stores, and woe be to those who are still looking for a Wii Fit or even a Wii gaming console.

“Most of the stuff that’s popular is gone,” Harmon said of popular video games.

“I’ve been trying to find a Wii Fit myself,” Harmon said. “Americans are creatures of the last minute.”

Harmon said his shopping was done, although he said he still was doing some wrapping.

Doing better than Harmon, however, was Vicky Christian of Mount Carmel. Her gifts are paid for, all in cash, wrapped and under the tree.

“I’m done. We’re just here for the atmosphere,” Christian said.

“Nothing on credit this year,” Christian said. “I brought my mom to get a Christmas card for ... my dad.”

Over near the the oversized chair used by Santa Claus, Meagan Taylor and Cody Gillenwater of Nickelsville and their daughter, sleepy 8-day-old Avery Gillenwater, were waiting for Santa to return from feeding his reindeer.

“We’re waiting to have her picture taken,” Taylor said, adding that they were done with their shopping and spent about the same as usual.

Although today is the last chance to shop at most stores, Walgreens in the Tri-Cities will be open Christmas Day, with the 24-hour stores never closing.

Kingsport restaurants open Christmas Day include China Wok on Center Street downtown as well as two Waffle Houses and IHOP.

And although the mall retail stores aren’t open Christmas, the Marquee Cinema movie theaters there will open in the afternoon in time to premiere Christmas Day releases.

And come Friday, J.C. Penney in Kingsport and nationwide will open at 5:30 a.m. for after-Christmas door busters, something normally done after Thanksgiving.

Harmon said the day and week after Christmas are a good selling time.

Aside from returns and exchanges, he said many folks will be using gift cards and searching for after-holiday deals on everything from holiday decorations to clothing, electronics or video games for new gaming consoles received from Santa.

Before making the big toy run, however, Santa returned from feeding the reindeer about 4 p.m. Tuesday and had his picture made with Avery Gillenwater.

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