Shoppers once again hit the stores round the clock on Black Friday

2012-11-24T00:15:00Z 2012-12-10T14:49:34Z Shoppers once again hit the stores round the clock on Black FridayBy Kavita Kumar stltoday.com
November 24, 2012 12:15 am  • 

This Black Friday may have tipped in favor of the night owls, but some of the early morning birds didn’t seem to mind since they got to spend more of Thanksgiving Day with their families and didn’t have to fight as big of crowds.

Operating on less than three hours of sleep, Jean Mathis, of DuQuoin, Ill., and her sister Debra Lynn Majewski drove two hours to reach the St. Louis Galleria by about 4 a.m. Mathis wasn’t bothered that some stores opened Thanksgiving night this year.

It “gets the crazy people out of the way — wait, wait, maybe I shouldn’t say crazy,” she said. “How about dedicated? That sounds better.”

Other shoppers said the extended hours through the night seemed to have lightened the crowds on Friday morning so they didn’t have to follow people leaving the mall in order to find a parking space.

Mathis and her sister, who have been shopping at the Galleria on Black Friday for about 15 years, said this was the most low-stress one they could remember. At Macy’s, they had three salespeople all to themselves as they shopped the shoe department.

“Usually, it’s shoulder to shoulder and back to front as we shop the stores,” Mathis said. “This is nice.”

But there were still plenty of long lines to be sure. By the time Cabela’s in Hazelwood opened at 5 a.m., there were 2,000 people waiting in line for smokers, guns and ammunition.

“It took 45 minutes just to get everyone inside,” said firearms manager Jeff Berkus.

People in line for guns waited up to three hours to check out, he added.

“I think there’s more optimism,” Berkus said of the big turnout. “But I also think Black Friday is becoming more of a cultural event. It’s almost like New Year’s Eve.”

The National Retail Federation won’t release its Black Friday survey until Sunday. It will give a better picture of how many people shopped over the weekend, when they started shopping and how much they spent.

“Like pumpkin pie and football, Thanksgiving Day shopping is quickly becoming a holiday tradition for millions of Americans,” Matthew Shay, the group’s chief executive said in a statement.

The earlier start to Black Friday sales was not a hit with everyone. Many people complained that store openings starting as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving were intruding into what should be a holiday spent with families.

Rain showers early in the night around St. Louis seemed to have dampened some of the early crowds, but traffic picked up as the night went on.

Some of the hot spots were shopping malls, many of which opened at midnight for the second year in a row. The scene inside resembled a party with hordes of teenagers and young adults swamping the corridors.

A steady stream of car headlights flowed into West County Center at midnight. Inside, it was sometimes shoulder to shoulder. Outside the Victoria’s Secret store, there was a line 30 to 40 people deep waiting to get inside an hour or so after it opened. Sales associates crouched on display tables as they threw rolled-up T-shirts and hoodies to shoppers.

At Hollister, two bare-chested young men stood in the entrance, inviting girls to take pictures with them — and, of course, to peruse the clothing store.

Nan Belloir, of Owensville, was taking a break at about 1 a.m., sitting in a chair at the mall while her 20-year-old daughter stood in the Victoria’s Secret line.

“This is unreal,” she said of the crowd. “People talk about how bad the economy is, but you’d never know it by looking around here.”

Sean Phillips, regional marketing director of CBL & Associates, which owns many shopping malls in the St. Louis region, said all of his malls saw a bigger turnout for the midnight openings than last year.

“The stores we talked to said their sales were definitely up,” he said. “Many of them made their goals by 2 in the morning.”

Bath & Body Works was a popular destination because of a promotion in which customers who spent $40 could pay another $20 to get a gift bag worth $100. A line started forming outside the St. Clair Square store by 9 p.m., so they opened at 10 p.m., two hours earlier than scheduled, Phillips said.

A certain rhythm has begun to develop around these all-nighters. Phillips said the crowds began to die down around 3 or 4 a.m. and then picked back up around 7 a.m. He expected many of those midnight shoppers to be back in the evening.

It was the same at many Kohl’s stores, which opened at midnight. Josh Holdaway, a district manager, said he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect because other retailers were opening earlier.

“But we really saw what we hoped,” he said. “A lot of crowds went to Target and Walmart first and then got in our lines afterward.”

He said Kohl’s saw “significantly more” traffic in its stores at their midnight openings than last year.

Some of the hot items were Mr. Potato Head toys, Barbie Volkswagen Beetles, and a lot of electronics and cooking gadgets. But he said the stores were well-stocked so they didn’t run out of anything too quickly.

Lured by $10 sweaters and $25 boots, more than 100 people were waiting in line to enter the JCPenney store at South County Center for its 6 a.m. opening. When the doors slid open, people clapped and cheered as they angled to get inside.

While his friends shopped the crowded aisles, Tony Jackson of University City took a break in the food court around 7 a.m. He had been shopping since 2 a.m. and had already loaded up on sweatshirts and Cardinals memorabilia.

“I’m very tired,” he admitted.

John McNulty knew he was getting to the Best Buy party late when he got to the store in Fairview Heights at 8:30 a.m. The store opened at midnight, but he decided not to go that early so he wouldn’t compromise his family’s Thanksgiving.

Still, he managed to pull in a pretty good haul, leaving the store with three 32-inch Dynex televisions at $179.99 apiece for his sons.

“I probably lost a good deal for not coming out sooner, but I wasn’t going to succumb,” he said.

Lisa Brown, Marlon Walker, Debra Bass, Georgina Gustin and Leah Thorsen of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Kavita Kumar covers retail and consumer affairs for the Post-Dispatch. She blogs on Consumer Central. Follow her on Twitter @kavitakumar.

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