Thanksgiving Day brings with it visions of friends, family and food.
For area retailers, the holidays signify a different gathering. Lines are beginning to form and stores are bracing for what is sure to be a busy season.
Crowds were visible at the Kmart Super Center in Niles Wednesday afternoon, as eager shoppers awaited holiday sales. Pauline Santiago of Fowler had been standing in line since noon for a sale set to begin at 5 a.m. today.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Shoppers waiting for Thanksgiving deals at Kmart in Niles on Wednesday included, from left, Amy Ronyak, Kristi Webb, Joelel Chaney, Will Davis and Emily Chaney, all of Howland. Denzil Dueley of Warren is seated in front.
"I'm waiting in line with my son, David," Santiago said. "He wants the Black Ops video game and I want the television."
Taking advantage of the Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales is nothing new for Santiago.
"I do this every year," she said. "I'm always in line for something. The worst thing I ever did was wait in line outside at Best Buy when it was cold. I will never do that again."
Joining Santiago in line at Kmart was Will Davis of Howland, who has his eye on a 32-inch television with a sale pricetag of $97.
"You can't beat that," the 27-year-old said. "I come out every year, but this is the best deal I've seen."
Davis noted he does not mind waiting hours for the chance to buy a particular item.
"You get to have a fellowship with everybody and meet new friends. It's actually sort of like camping out," Davis said. "There should be an organization for Black Friday shoppers, because I always meet new and interesting people.
"It makes it easier if your wife just brings you dinner."
Kmart is upping the ante this holiday season, extending sales for three days beginning Thanksgiving morning and ending Saturday.
"We don't know what to expect," Polly Wodogaza, Kmart assistant manager, said. "It is kind of a new territory for us. We've always done the early Thursday and early Friday specials. We've never done an overnight Thursday morning sale."
Other area businesses, like Best Buy in Niles, are prepared to handle even the largest Black Friday crowds. Signs of the rush were visible throughout the store Wednesday.
"We facilitate the line outside and we have our barricades up all ready for safety purposes, not only for the customers but also for the employees," Gary Molish, Best Buy general manager explained. "We want to keep the order with everything, obviously. We have a capacity of 1,100 in the store for fire protection purposes and we follow that pretty strictly. We have our counters to make sure we aren't going over that capacity."
According to Molish, projections indicate heavy traffic this holiday season. He cited specifics in the latest Best Buy earnings announcement regarding growth in cellular phone and tablet sales.
"We are showing positive signs," Molish said.
Statewide, holiday retail sales are projected to increase 4.2 percent, compared to last year, according to a study prepared for the Ohio council of Retail Merchants.
Sales are expected to increase by 3.4 percent in the Youngstown market area, which includes Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties in Ohio, along with Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania, the study projects.
While the 4.2 percent statewide increase is encouraging, it still falls short of last year's 5.6 percent increase in sales.
''It is encouraging to see that consumers are spending again and our retail sales figures continue to increase over last year,'' said Gordon M. Gough, executive vice president of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.
Headwinds that could affect spending at Ohio's retailers include uncertainty on gasoline prices, wariness with the impending fiscal cliff and Internet spending. The study indicated 45 percent of all consumers plan to make at least one purchase online this Christmas season.
Meanwhile, for some customers, the rush of Black Friday is too much to handle. Holly Burton of Austintown will not be one of the early shoppers wading through the stores.
"I don't like the crowds and the stores never have what you're looking for anyway," the 42-year-old said. "The stores generally just have two or three of the big items per store. I'm not getting up at 2 o'clock to go shopping."
Fellow shopper Russ Pinkard of Cortland agreed, who plans to do most of his shopping online.
"I used to do the Black Friday thing in the past," Pinkard said while browsing an aisle at Best Buy. "I think this year I'm going to wait and look on the Internet, because you can get most of the same deals sitting in your home and doing it online."
Marty Cohen, owner of Mickey's Army Navy Store in Warren, is joining in on the Black Friday sales, offering incentives like 30-percent off for customers and holding a drawing for shopping sprees. However, Cohen does not feel pressure by competitors to open on Thanksgiving Day.
"That should be a family day. As an independent retailer, it's a sign of the times and what has happened to our society that stores have to be open on Thanksgiving," Cohen said. "Some people think it is more important to go after the bargains, but we feel that time should be spent with your family."
Cohen said his store will open at 8 a.m. Friday.