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Weekend is huge for our merchants

Millions of Americans — including thousands right here in Albany and Southwest Georgia — are shaking off the residual sluggishness that comes from consuming copious carbs during Thanksgiving dinner and hitting the ground running after bargains.

In fact, many of those ambitious shoppers may have already concluded their appointed rounds by the time this newspaper hit their doorsteps this morning. Stores, coming out of the deep recession that saw Black Friday weekend sales actually decrease year-to-year in 2009, have been aggressive not only in their pricing, but in their accessibility.

Black Friday has been more of an social event than merely a busy shopping day for years now, with stores opening in the dead of night with special deals. Over the years, those 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. openings have been moving up earlier, with many opening their doors at the stroke of midnight Thanksgiving night.

This spinning of the wheels of commerce may seem crass to some, but there is logic to it. The unofficial launch of the four-week Christmas shopping season today is something businesses — including many local ones in Southwest Georgia — are hoping to bank on — literally.

Last week, the National Retail Federation gazed into its crystal ball and predicted that the numbers will be up this weekend for the second straight year. Black Friday weekend sales in 2010 were up 5.2 percent from 2009’s dismal numbers, and for this weekend, the NRF is estimating the number will improve a less dramatic 2.8 percent over last year. Still, two consecutive years of improved performance is certainly movement in the right direction.

At least 74 million, an increase of 6 percent over last year’s survey, said they were definitely heading to the stores this weekend, and the federation’s estimate was that 152 million people would end up in the aisles at some point over the three days, up 14 million from 2010.

But the most important number may be 40, as in the 40 percent of annual sales that many American retailers realize over the holiday shopping season.

That’s why it’s important that they get off to a good start today.

And for those who suggest that newspaper’s aren’t a driving force in this, we’d like to point out that in the retail federation’s annual survey, one out of every two shoppers said they would keep up with retailers’ deals and promotions through advertising circulars, such as the ones that stuffed The Herald on Thursday. That 50.5 percent was by far the most popular method, with emailed coupons from businesses coming in a distant second at 32.2 percent and TV commercials landing third at 31.7 percent.

So, here’s hoping that the retailers see quite a bit of green this shopping season and that shoppers will only spend what they’re comfortable with.

After the doldrums of recent years, a strong sales season would be welcome.

And we’d also ask that when you go shopping, remember to patronize our local merchants. These are businesses that provide jobs here in the community, and we need to do everything we can to support those local jobs. Shop smart, shop sensibly and shop locally — a good combination for the local economy that we all depend upon.