Curtis Atkins, 51, of Tifton looked slightly exhausted just after 5 a.m. Friday as he sat on a bench at North Point Mall in Alpharetta. His wife was still hunting for deals hours after they made the three-hour drive from their south Georgia home to metro Atlanta for a tree-lighting ceremony at Lenox Square followed by shopping as soon as the stores opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
"I think it's going to end because it's taking away from the traditional Thanksgiving," Atkins said of stores opening on that day. Around him, the suburban mall had the feel of an airport terminal before sunrise, with some gates open, others closed and many shoppers slowly shuffling along, bleary-eyed.
Dalton Mason and Jessica Astalos also gave up sleeping to pull an all-nighter at North Point Mall. Taking a break at the food court at 5:30 a.m., Astalos said she'd left home at 11:30 p.m. and shopped straight through until nearly daybreak
Not long after sunrise, Black Friday already seemed to have passed its peak crowds.
Lisa Stinar of Atlanta let herself sleep in before heading to Lenox Square with her two children. She said she was worried about the crowds until she arrived and found the stores bustling with shoppers, but not too mobbed.
"Everyone's just together shopping at this time of year," Stinar said. "It's a special time of year, and it really feels good to be a part of it — smiles on faces and just everyone very excited to be here to shop."
At a Best Buy in Savannah, employees by 9:15 a.m. were taking down the metal barricades used to corral their biggest crowds outside the front doors overnight. Plenty of shoppers were still snapping up TVs and video games. But the parking lot had plenty of vacant spaces and checkout lines appeared no busier than an average weekend.
Matthew Simmons, an Army soldier stationed at nearby Fort Stewart, found the smaller crowds more to his liking. He and his wife, Ashley, had tried to score some early deals at Walmart on Thanksgiving. But the wall-to-wall, and sometimes ill-mannered, mob inside was enough to make them leave empty-handed.
"I was deployed twice to Iraq, and a lot of people in one place going crazy really doesn't do it for me," Simmons said. "We just put back everything and left."
Black Friday stragglers still found some bargains waiting for them. At Savannah's Best Buy, about a dozen people stood in line outside to get tickets for special 10 a.m. deals offering $170 off HTC smartphones and $230 off Hewlett-Packard laptops.
"I'll stand in line for 30 minutes to save $230," said Tony Abruzzio, who wanted the laptop for his college-student daughter.
His wife, Sherry Abruzzio, said she tends to do much of her Christmas shopping online and finds she gets better deals if she waits until mid to late December.
"I do most of it right before Christmas because by then they're trying to get rid of their inventory," she said.
Desire Alexander of Savannah and her husband were first in line for the discounted laptops at Best Buy. The couple planned to buy two of the computers — one for each of them — and then call it quits on their holiday shopping.
Alexander works as a human resources coordinator at a Savannah college and said she's still too nervous about the economy to splurge on Christmas presents, even though her husband called it a pretty good year at his construction job.
"Usually I'd do something more for Christmas, but nowadays you never know what's coming ahead," Alexander said. "After New Year's, what if the government shuts down again? Right now, I just want to conserve my money and get what I need."
Others were happy to head out shopping two days in a row, even if that meant postponing Thanksgiving dinner or making it a turkey lunch.
At a Michaels arts and crafts store in Columbus, Katy Schaefer and her daughter, Sharon Raney, loaded a pair of shopping carts with holiday decorations.
They told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (http://bit.ly/1butii5) they had eaten a Thanksgiving lunch before hitting the stores Thursday and planned to make another shopping trip Friday.
"We're embarrassed that we're out shopping on Thanksgiving," said Schaefer, who wore a Santa hat with leopard trim.
In Albany, Dalton Smith voiced no misgivings as he joined several hundred shoppers who couldn't wait to storm the shelves at Target when its doors opened Thanksgiving night.
"I'm a real big people person, so as much as I'm around people it just gives me all this energy," Smith told WALB-TV (http://bit.ly/1dGf67u) . "So I love it."
Russ Bynum reported from Savannah. Associated Press writer Ron Harris in Atlanta contributed to this story.
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