Don't assume parking will be plentiful at the 41st Southern Christmas Show just because we're mired in a financial mess.
For Thursday's opening, cars lined up awaiting entry. By 11 a.m., the main lot was full and a six-acre overflow lot was packed with cars, church and tour buses, and RVs.
Shoppers thronged the halls and crowded the booths of more than 700 craft, food and other exhibitors. Those weary of carrying bulging bags added to the mounds stowed in the show's free package-holding area.
In other words, it looked the same as most years, despite forecasts for the ugliest shopping season in a long time.
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“I think we might not have as depressing a holiday season as people are saying,” said Joan Zimmerman, chief executive of Southern Shows, which produces the event. “We are pleased and surprised.”
There's a waiting list of exhibitors eager to fill last-minute openings at the show, which runs through Nov. 23. Advance ticket sales are up. Last year, more than 120,000 people turned out for what has long heralded the start of the region's holiday shopping. About 8 percent of visitors in the past have come from beyond a five-state region.
Still, this year, Zimmerman encouraged vendors to have a mix that included lower-priced offerings.
“Everyone is aware we're in a different environment,” she said.
Consumer confidence is at dismal levels and spending is down amid wrenching anxiety about job losses, plunging stocks and an epic housing rout. Nationwide, retailers are bracing for a slump.
Those worries were apparent Thursday among shoppers talking about slimmer budgets and vendors who took the unusual step of opening with discounts. But the mood was generally upbeat as families and friends gathered.