It's too soon to know whether the cliff fears are having a Grinch-like impact, and sales so far have hit new highs. But the federation is concerned about the weeks ahead.
"Before Thanksgiving, the threat of the fiscal cliff seemed remote to most Americans," says David French, the NRF's top lobbyist, who is pushing both parties for action on the issue. "Now, more and more people are focused on it, and the threat is becoming more real... It's uncomfortable for retailers."
Government-style accounting would put a business 'in jail,' owner says
Owners of two small businesses in New Jersey told CNN they're nervous and frustrated.
Any business that followed the same "method of accounting as our government" would "be in jail," complains Bob Bellagamba, CEO of Concorde Worldwide, a limousine company.
He wants a decision on the fiscal cliff "so I know how to run my business." Depending on the outcome, he may have to lay off some employees, he said.
Charles Altiero, owner of Freehold Jewelers, said tax increases might help him in one way. "More people are going to have to sell their gold to pay their taxes."
But it would hurt his customers' buying power. So, he said, he's open to the idea of paying more taxes to help avoid going off the "cliff."
Reliable Refuse Removal in Opal, Wyoming, has dropped an annual tradition.
"We normally present our biggest customers with appreciation gifts. This year everyone gets a card," said Mary Hall, who owns the business with her husband.
That's due to the state of the economy in general, including the fiscal cliff, she said.
Hall, a mother of five, is also the small town's mayor.
"I can see it affecting the programs we participate in with regard to funding for capital improvements," she said. No programs have been cut yet due to the fiscal cliff, but "as the federal government starts cutting and limiting spending, the states tend to tighten their belts as well," she said.
Tax increases would make it 'not worth' re-entering work force
The belt-tightening many Americans have been doing for years prompted Richard Huffman,a 63-year-old retired cop and CNN iReporter in Saint Joseph, Michigan, to consider re-entering the work force. He has six daughters and 14 grandchildren.
Now, he's changing his mind. "I will not go back into the work force if taxes are to go up on the middle class," he says. So much of the money he would make would go to taxes that it wouldn't be worth working. "These tax increases would take away from our income drastically."
'I'm being penalized for wealth'
It's not just members of the middle class who are nervous about what lies ahead.
Brian Chandler, a 34-year-old in Marietta, Georgia, says he's among those Americans with incomes over $250,000 whose taxes would go up under Obama's plan.
"I am technically considered 'rich,'" says Chandler. "I did this through hard work, long hours, taking on work that clearly wasn't my responsibility, networking, etc. Now it sort of feels like I'm being penalized for that, in higher taxes, because of others' lack of financial responsibility."
"I am concerned about the reduction of take-home income. I am also concerned taxing those above $250,000 a year may counter innovation and prevent some from working as hard as they do to earn that amount of money."
He and his wife have a son, and their daughter is due this month. They need more space. But he's no longer looking for a bigger home. "I'm watching how it will all play out."
In support of 'cliff' diving
While polls show it to be a minority, there is a contingent of Americans who want the country to go off the fiscal cliff.
"It will help because it will finally reduce the deficit with substance -- not just words," says Valerie Stayskal of Addison, Illinois. It will be painful for several years, but best in the long term, the mother of three and soon-to-be grandmother of twins argues.