Black Friday is no longer a one-day zenith for holiday discounts. Instead, November has turned into a month-long season of promotions with many retailers – including Amazon and Home Depot – offering Black Friday deals that started the day after Halloween. But big-box stores and online retailers are not the only retailers taking advantage of customers’ appetites for pre-Thanksgiving sales.

For North Hills’ popular educational toy store Learning Express, the holiday shopping season begins shortly after school starts. “We’ve been wrapping gifts in holiday paper since September,” says Learning Express’ Jodi Kirkland. “We have a sale in November, but we don’t do anything on Black Friday. We feel that the smaller retailer gets overlooked then, and people are really focused on shopping in big-box stores.”

A 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) supports that notion, reporting that more than 55 percent of Black Friday customers shopped at department and discount stores, compared to 11.9 percent in small local stores and 10.2 percent in other specialty stores. Many smaller stores can’t compete with the deep discounts offered by national retailers and online merchants. Instead, smaller retailers focus on service and personalization – like complimentary gift wrap at Learning Express.

North Hills retailers are a diverse mix of locally-owned shops, national specialty stores, and department stores like Target and JCPenney.  From doorbuster deals to closing for Black Friday, each retailer meets the demands of their specific audiences.

For example, specialty outdoor store REI announced that for the third year running it would close its North Hills store on Black Friday and its 150 other locations nationwide, process no online sales, and pay all 12,000 employees to #OptOutside with family and friends.

“We are doing this again to unite people, and to find common ground in the outdoors,” said REI CEO Jerry Stritzke in a news release. “Right now, I think people are looking for a moment to take a breath, reground themselves and come together.”

REI is taking #OptOutside a step further by launching a new experimental search engine designed to inspire millions of people to choose to be outdoors. It pulls images from #OptOutside user-generated content on Instagram, augmented with real-time information about locations and outdoor experiences across the country.

While Target and JCPenney are known for their deep discounts and extended store hours during the Thanksgiving weekend, some small specialty retailers say their customers get excited about Black Friday deals too.

“Black Friday continues to be huge for us,” says Stephanie Sneeden, general manager of  Charlotte’s Jewelry & Gifts at North Hills. “We will open an hour early, customers will be waiting at the door when we open, and every single one of our employees will be working that day.”

While traditionalists may complain that stores are decorated and playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving, the holiday promotions are a response – at least in part – to customer demand for sales and promotions before the Thanksgiving weekend. In 2016, the NRF found that 57 percent of shoppers started their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

All the businesses at North Hills kicked off the holiday shopping season this past weekend at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration. This holiday tradition includes open houses for the merchants as well as a visit from Santa, a trackless train, and snow slopes. For more information on North Hills’ stores, visit http://visitnorthhills.com/locations/category/shop/.