Shoppers crowded the malls and shopping centers for Black Friday bargains, although not in the numbers seen Thanksgiving night, and mild weather beckoned people downtown for sidewalk sales and lunch.
Anyone who saw the three Stephens sisters from New Orleans shopping downtown Ocean Springs on Black Friday understands why Small Business Saturday is growing in popularity each year.
The event was started by credit-card company American Express to promote shopping and dining at local merchants and is held the day after Black Friday. Shopping local is being promoted in cities across South Mississippi and the country.
The sisters cook Thanksgiving dinner together, then drive to Ocean Springs to shop. They lunch at the same Ocean Springs restaurant each year, check into the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino for a girls' night out, get a facial, dance and go home with their shopping started and their Christmas spirits lifted.
The tradition began when their father died three years ago, shortly before Christmas, and they needed something to pick themselves up, said Linda Reineke, Leslie Higgins and Shelley Landry.
They chose Ocean Springs because it's quaint, it's just a 90-minute drive from home and, "we do find that everyone in the stores is really helpful," Landry said.
The stores along Washington Avenue and Government Street in Ocean Springs are sumptuously decorated in traditional red Santas and sparkling silver ornaments. There are lots of places downtown for the menfolk to sit, restaurants along the way and an old-fashioned toy store where most of the toys don't run on batteries.
"I love this place," a shopper said as she entered Miner's Doll and Toy Store. It's the 28th Christmas for the store operated by John and MaryAlice Miner and their daughter, Merileigh Miner Furr, and has the wagons and baby dolls with clothes and carriages that continue parents' and grandparents' holiday memories.
Kids can drop off their Christmas gift lists -- a more traditional practice than a gift registry. A store promotion gives shoppers on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday a reward when they return for last-minute gifts just before Christmas, and the Miners wrap the toys.
"We go through rolls and rolls and rolls of wrap," Furr said, "and we're fast."
The rest of the experience of shopping the local stores is typically more relaxed and personal.
Alma White, owner of Leather and Pearls in downtown Ocean Springs, said the leather and pearl jewelry she crafts and the gifts she offers are more unique than people will find in large department stores.
The personal customer service is another bonus of a locally owned store, she said.
"We are all into fashion in this store," she said, and they help their customers choose the right gift and then gift wrap it for free.
Some shoppers in South Mississippi lined up for the big sales at the national chains Thanksgiving night and others were at the stores, but in shorter lines, when they opened on Black Friday.
Before dawn at Home Depot in Biloxi, shoppers compared lists and snacked on the free coffee and donuts sent out shortly before the doors opened at 6 p.m.
The bargains made it worth getting up early, shoppers said. Lisa Williams, principal of Cedar Lake Christian Academy, was buying 25 deep-red poinsettias at the Black Friday special of 99 cents each for all her teachers and said, "They're going to get them Monday."
Kevin and Faith Odom of Poplarville made a stop in Lowe's in D'Iberville at 7 a.m. Friday on their whirlwind shopping excursion that had begun Thursday at 3 p.m.
"We don't do Christmas shopping until Black Friday," she said. They rattled off the stores they'd hit and the bargains they scored, and with their "sleigh" nearly full, they planned to stop at Gulfport Premium Outlets for a few more sales before heading home.