Steamboat Springs At 6 a.m. Friday, Wal-Mart manager Mark Meade opened the doors of his store in Steamboat Springs to nearly five dozen people wanting to get a jump on their Christmas shopping.
"It was still dark and cold and they were waiting to shop," he said.
By 1 p.m., the store had calmed down slightly, and Meade, with a hint of fatigue in his eyes, looked content.
"The morning was pretty fun," he said.
Many store owners in Steamboat Springs weren't disappointed Friday with the turnout of early present buyers on one of the busiest Christmas shopping days of the year.
Statewide, merchants expect to see another increase in holiday spending this year, even though they are not counting on the huge gains posted in previous years as shoppers keep one eye on the slowing economy and another on their gift lists.
JoAnn Groff, president of the Colorado Retail Council, said the slowing national economy will have an effect on Colorado this year. Merchants in the state, she said, have cut their expectations to 3 to 4 percent increases compared to double-digits in some communities over the past decade.
Groff said consumers are keeping a wary eye on the stock market watching their retirement investments stagnate or fall as investors fret over the presidential stalemate.
"Part of it is because of this never-ending election and stock market insecurity, and that all relates to consumer confidence,'' she said.
Still, there are plenty of people out there ready to spend for the holidays. To get ready for them, Wal-Mart started ordering holiday items six months ago. Meade said his store has 17 percent more merchandise on the floor than it did last year.
Robin Martin was one of the post-Thanksgiving Day shoppers getting a jump on his present buying Friday.
"Normally, I don't (shop early)," he admitted in the toy section at Wal-Mart. "But I haven't got any of my Christmas shopping done so I thought it would be a good day."
Martin was looking for a present for his granddaughter and wasn't having too much trouble cutting through the crowds.
But a little while later, he hit his first snag downtown.
"There was no place to park," Martin said.
For most of the business day Friday, Lincoln Avenue was lined with cars, and bag-carrying shoppers strode along the sidewalks.
"We're doing really well," F.M. Light and Sons store manager John Schoen said. "We are doing better than last year at this point."
The store timed a sale with the post-Thanksgiving shopping season, and Schoen said that was helping to boost sales. In fact, the only other day on which Schoen expects to see more shoppers is Dec. 24.
Marsha Stimac of Fort Collins was shopping in Steamboat Friday.
"We meet family (from Utah) here for Thanksgiving," she said.
The family members all went shopping on Friday and will exchange gifts this weekend.
The stores may have been busy Friday, but local lodges weren't, according to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. The local "lodging barometer" showed 32 percent occupancy at local inns for Saturday. That translates to about 6,400 people, a large percentage of whom are staying at mountain-area hotels and condominiums.
Of course, not all of the people out on Friday were shopping for December holidays, specifically.
Eileen Sherrill, her granddaughter Becky and granddaughter-in-law Becca were taking advantage of the day off just to hang out.
"We're just trying to be together. This is the first time we all have been in the same town in a while," Eileen said.
The trio said they were having a good time browsing through stores, but they weren't really checking off a holiday gift list.
"We're shopping more for ourselves," Becca, a Steamboat Springs resident, said with a laugh.
Aimee Prevenslik, who works at Straightline Outdoor Sports, said just as many people came into the store to rent snowshoes for the day as they did to come in and buy them. Snowshoes are the hot Christmas present in Steamboat this year, she said.
"It seems like people are playing more this than they did last year," Prevenslik said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.