About the time people finish their Thanksgiving Day feasts, the doors will swing open at stores from coast-to-coast for early Christmas shopping bargains.

Black Friday still exists, by the way, but the growing trend is for stores to get ahead of the crowd with product specials that come along once a year – many stores already are offering great deals.

While a lot of people grumble about holiday shopping season starting so early, Alabamians are projected by the state Retail Association to spend $11.5 billion on gifts and other holiday purchases in November and December. That’s an increase of about 2 percent more than 2016. And most of that spending will be in traditional brick and mortar stores.

Two things are certain as shoppers lace up their sneakers for a run at the sales: the holiday season is a make-or-break financial times for many stores, and local governments gain valuable sales tax dollars to fund public services.

One other point to remember, it will be crowded with shoppers going from store-to-store and to restaurants throughout the weekend. Along with the heavy traffic, shoppers need to be sure their cars are locked and gifts are out of sight. Police warn that thieves will also be out looking for bargains – the free kind.

The holiday shopping season can be a lot of fun, and a bit challenging. Nonetheless, this is a great time of year to support local businesses and keep a hefty portion of the sales tax dollars in Cullman County.

It’s estimated that approximately 10 percent of the holiday purchases made in Alabama will be online, which is a convenience a lot of people enjoy. If you like this convenience, please remember there are local merchants offering online shopping, too.

The holiday weekend weather forecast is outstanding, so here’s a game plan. First, we urge you to review the many sales ads and inserts included in The Times Thanksgiving edition. Enjoy a great Thanksgiving meal. And then, plan to hit the local retail outlets as you search for those special gifts for family and friends – some stores will open Thanksgiving afternoon while others open early on Black Friday.

Visiting the local retailers and running into friends through the hustle and bustle is a great aspect of shopping this weekend. And, when you make those purchases, we all reap the benefits – so, shop local first.

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