Black Friday shopping in the Smokies, your 6-step survival guide

Black Friday in the Smokies: A survival guide; Memorize these 7 tips from a shoppin’ pro

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I did my first successful Black Friday find in 1986 – getting one of four bargain televisions at the local Wal-Mart. For visitors and locals, Sevier County is a Black Friday destination. These tips will help you navigate one of the busiest days in the Smokies.

1. Pack your patience

Have snacks in the car and make sure your tank is full when you start. Black Friday is wonderful in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – but traffic drawn in by the rod runs every year looks manageable compared to the weekend after Thanksgiving.

2. Plot alternate routes, not even the backroads will save you

I am often asked about short-cuts and ways to get around the traffic. Unfortunately, even the back roads overflow on this particular weekend because everyone in the Smokies – locals, tourists, people from bordering counties – all want to shop. My best advice: store the addresses of the places you’re staying and the places you’re going. Use your GPS to find alternate routes and real-time travel info. 

3. If Tanger Outlets is on your list, arrive 2 hours before opening, get the coupon book

Tanger Outlets in Sevierville are easily the biggest draw. Tanger opens this year at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. (This is much better than previous years when they opened at midnight.) If you want a good parking space, arrive by 4 p.m. If want a so-so parking space, arrive at 4:30 p.m. Arriving later? Consider a designated driver – someone (perhaps dad) drives around the parking lot while you shop. Serious shoppers easily spend six or seven hours at the center. This is not a place where you get one bargain and leave, so parking spaces don’t turn over very often. Tanger does offer limited valet parking, but I’m not sure this is operating on Thanksgiving. 

Additional tips for Tanger:

  • Get a coupon book. You can now download it for $5 on the website ( Preview it for no cost before purchase to see if the coupon is worth it. Usually, one good coupon will pay for the whole book. (Coupon books are also available at the center in vending machines.)
  • Travel light. You just need your cell phone and your debit/credit/cash…and maybe a nitro pill if you have heart problems. Leave the heavy purse at the hotel. Ignore this advice if you are bringing a baby or toddler. In that case, bring a stroller and pack the child and everything the child could possibly need in that stroller. Bundle the baby up and hope he or she sleeps through the whole event.
  • Decide which store you want to visit first. If you are willing to get in line first, choose a smaller store like Disney, Vera Bradley or Yankee Candle. These stores will likely have a line most of the day because a limited number of  customers are allowed at one time. Larger stores like Old Navy and Under Armour, can pack in the customers but the lines may be around-the-store-twice long. Use the buddy system. One of you reserve your space in line while the other shops. Then switch.

4. Keep in mind: Tanger isn’t the only game in town

Wal-Mart and Belk have great Black Friday deals and have large stores in Sevierville. For visitors not familiar with Belk, it’s a mid-price department store. The quality is great, the prices are lower than Macy’s and Dillard’s. The store has huge Black Friday sales on most clothing items. Last year, they had a great price on the latest PlayStation edition. Governor’s Crossing Shopping Center has a VF Outlet, Katherine’s and Burlington’s. While the everyday prices at these clothing stores are impressive, each does usually offer a Black Friday special.

If you absolutely MUST have something from Kohl’s, Target or another chain – a great strip mall is located just 20 or so minutes from the Sevierville I-40 exit, but the trip will require a trip back to the Interstate. Black Friday/holiday traffic is heavy, so that 20 minutes could turn into an hour. The address is 5405 Washington Pike, Knoxville, if you want to put it in your GPS. (This is actually the Target address, but it’s at the strip mall.) Personally, I would check to make sure the needed items aren’t available online before venturing to Knoxville. I know…some people just want the Black Friday excitement. 

5. Venture into the smaller, boutique stores

If you’re looking for unique gifts, visit the smaller stores in the area. Sevier County is home to galleries specializing in paintings, ceramics and crafts. A few boutiques offer one-of-a-kind clothing pieces and jewelry. Don’t overlook the souvenir shops that line the bypass and spot the street of Gatlinburg. These are great places to find white elephant gifts that the office will be talking about for years.

6. Check out the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Loop

Do some shopping on the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Loop, beginning at 668 Glades Road, just a few miles east of Gatlinburg proper. You can get there by trolley. You can watch hundreds of craftsmen and artists – one of the largest gatherings in the world – practice their talents and even get customized, unique pieces then and there. 

Bonus Tip: Consider an alternate Black Friday altogether!

Black Friday will save you some money. Quality family time? Probably not. This might be the year you skip the crowds. Odds are that your hotel’s indoor swimming pool and hot tub will be empty as other visitors head to the stores. Believe it or not, traffic through the mountains isn’t too bad on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Enjoy a long drive or better yet, make this the year you actually make it to Clingman’s Dome or Laurel Falls. Your family time will be even more valuable because cell service is spotty at best in the national park. No need for the kids to bring the phones. 

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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