Santa Claus is coming to town.

No, really.

At 9 a.m. Saturday at the Tucson Mall.

That might seem a little early; his arrival is traditionally timed closer to Thanksgiving.

But Thanksgiving is a little early this year, as well - Nov. 22. And the folks at Tucson Mall want to get Tucson in the holiday shopping spirit.

So after Santa parades around the mall, he will take up residence Saturday morning at his house in the center of the mall.

Let the wish-making, photo-snapping, candy-cane-licking season commence.

"It's been a tradition that Santa usually comes a week or two before Thanksgiving," says Brighid Brown, marketing manager for the Tucson and Park Place malls.

Brown said the mall and its merchants are not worried that the early start will spell an earlier end to the holiday retail season.

"The holiday season starts now, and through Christmas we expect to see a steady flow of traffic," she said.

The move might also help retailers stave off a threat by online retailers offering early deals, added Martha Van Gelder, director of the University of Arizona's Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.

"The mall jump could shift the rush to online," she said. It is kind of intuitive to me, and it seems like it might make sense. Stretching it out in general … capturing some of the sales before the Black Friday sales, or capturing it twice, once before and at Black Friday."

With the earlier start, Tucson Mall extends the holiday retail season to 45 shopping days - which include Thanksgiving Day. Last year, retailers set a precedent, with many big-box stores opening their doors Thanksgiving evening for pre-Black Friday specials. Tucson Mall will officially open at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, although some stores might open at midnight, Brown said.

Stores including Kmart - with one Tucson location at 7055 E. Broadway - are open all day Thanksgiving, with doorbuster deals on TVs, games, toys and electronics beginning at 6 a.m. that day. Sears and Walmart begin their Black Friday campaigns at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, while Target opens at 9 p.m., according to, a website devoted to leaking Black Friday shopping deals.

All of this kind of rubs small mom-and-pop retailers a bit wrong, said Deanna Chevas, coordinator of Local First Tucson, a group that promotes buying from independent, local retailers.

"We've tried to rebrand Black Friday as Buy Local Day," she said. "Our goals are economic sustainability. Starting the shopping season too early doesn't support that idea."

Santa arrives at Park Place Mall on Nov. 16 and at Foothills Mall on Nov. 17, when he will come along with 30 tons of snow.

If you go

• What: Santa's Welcome Parade and Holiday Breakfast.

• When: 9 a.m. Saturday.

• Where: Tucson Mall, 4500 N. Oracle Road.

• Cost: Free.

• Details: The parade starts outside The Cheesecake Factory and winds through the lower level of the Tucson Mall and back to Santa's holiday home in Center Court. It will take about 25 minutes. Afterward, Brio Tuscan Grille will host a holiday breakfast buffet with a pancake bar; children 12 and under eat for free, and it's $8.95 for adults 13 and older.

• More information: Call 293-7331 or go online to