Black Friday shoppers in St. Louis area brave crowds for deals

2011-11-25T15:00:00Z 2015-12-18T13:47:33Z Black Friday shoppers in St. Louis area brave crowds for dealsBY KAVITA KUMAR • kkumar@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8017 and DEBRA D. BASS • dbass@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8236 stltoday.com

UPDATED at 3:15 p.m.

The Black Friday madness continued throughout the day. This afternoon, drivers trolled the jam-packed parking lot at the Saint Louis Galleria Mall in hopes of finding a space.

Shoppers in search of a Black Friday deal pawed over Macy's shoe racks and rifled through stacked boxes of winter boots. Other stores at the mall in Richmond Heights planned to offer an extra 30 percent to 50 percent off until closing.  

But the malls and big chain stores weren't the only benefactors of Black Friday shopping.

The Alpine Shop was the first and only stop for Dennis Maddock, 37, of Ballwin, and his two daughters, Kaia, 10, and Mia, 11, on this Black Friday morning.

"We're getting free cash," he said, adding that he likes independent shops because they draw smaller crowds and you can get to know the staff by name. "Plus, there's not much I want at the other stores. Everything I need, I can get right here, like clothes, electronics, shoes and gear for all the sports we play."

He doesn't care that the other stores opened early.

"If other people want to do that, that's fine as long as they don't bite each other's ears off," he said.

Nathan Hoenig, 30 of Webster Groves, echoed the comment. He was going to put his $20 gift card toward a Patagonia down coat for his daughter that he had on layaway. He had not been to any other stores and did not like the fact that they're opening earlier this year.

"It encourages people to cut out on Thanksgiving early and lessens the importance of being together on that day," he said.

Still, the great deals brought hordes of shoppers in search of a great deal.

Joe Paulfrey, a firearms instructor from Brighton, showed up at Cabela's at 4:30 a.m. to purchase ammunition. He loaded up his shopping cart with 7,000 rounds of .243-caliber rifle bullets. Normally the ammunition would go for 45 cents a round. On Black Friday, they were only 27 cents a round.

It was Paulfrey's first Black Friday, and it was a good deal, but it might be his last as well.

"I never done this before," he said. "I'm never doing it again ... too crowded."

He might have a point. At 5 a.m. more than 1,600 people were lined up outside the Cabela's store, at the St. Louis Mills mall. The turnout doubled the previous record of Black Friday shoppers from last year, said Manager Mike Adlesh.

Adlesh partly attributed the numbers to a gift cards promotion. The store handed out gift cards up to $100 to its first 800 customers. There were also steep discounts, including camouflage jackets and rifles.

Meanwhile, across town at the Toys R Us in Sunset Hills, Kimberly Roach, 38, of Pacific and her husband, DeWayne Roach, started shopping at 4 a.m. They refused to start shopping before midnight.

"I don't think it's fair to the workers and I don't understand why the system of opening at 4 or 5 was not working," Kimberly Roach said. She  said workers should be able to spend the holidays with their families as well.

But even the law couldn't stop some stores from opening.

Chesterfield police Lt. Steve Lewis said officers issued tickets to managers of nine stores that opened at midnight because of a city ordinance that prohibits retail sales before 6 a.m. If found guilty in municipal court, the stores could pay up to a $100 fine, Lewis said. He said the store managers were aware of the ordinances before opening their doors at midnight.

"While I can't speak for them, clearly, they made the decision that the one ticket was well worth being able to open up and do all the sales," Lewis said.

ENDURANCE NEEDED

Kelly McCoy, 37, of Lemay, and Shelly Norkaitis, 33, of University City, were both among the early bird shoppers at Toys R Us who started around 5 a.m.

They didn't come earlier because they were too exhausted after preparing Thanksgiving dinner and tending to their families and children. They called their early morning shopping trip "kind of a girl's day."

The women considered it a respite.

"We don't have to deal with children at least until noon," said Norkaitis, who planned to hit five or six stores before calling it quits today.

Marathon shoppers like sisters Tina Hamilton of Bridgeton and Lisa Gray of Overland stayed up through the night.

"We've been shopping for 12 hours now," Gray said at the West County Mall around 8 a.m.

The sisters started shopping at 10 p.m. at Walmart and then made it to Target by midnight, Kmart at 5 a.m. and then to the mall.

Hamilton said that you have to have a strategy. And apparently, a lot of endurance.

"Your body is so broken down after cooking all day and then you (stand) in line to get a TV that (doesn't) go on sale until midnight," Gray said.

Hamilton added, "I think we're going to go home and get some sleep and come back out."

But dedicated shoppers like Anne Bieller didn't consider power napping. The first place she went after working the night shift at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center was the Best Buy in Brentwood. Still clad in her scrubs, Bieller had a half dozen Blu-ray discs on sale tucked under her arm at 8:30 a.m.

"I probably will shop the rest of the day," she said.

Her diehard attitude was reflected by many shoppers who skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner altogether in the pursuit of low-priced TVs and laptops.

Others joined those stalwarts in line later in the day with bellies full of turkey and stuffing — and ready to shop.

AN EARLY START

Bundled in blankets, many of those who showed up for the Thursday night openings said they actually liked the earlier store openings for Black Friday sales this year.

"This way I can go back home and go to sleep," said Catherine Barrows, who was first in line outside the Target in Fairview Heights, which was to open for the first time at midnight.

Randy Hu, of O'Fallon, Mo., was not far behind her.

He initially went to the Best Buy down the street, but when he saw the line was several dozen deep by 5 p.m., Hu decided to defect to the shorter Target line to assure himself of snapping up one of the highly coveted 46-inch TVs there for $298.

Good call, the 40 $199 flatscreen TVs that Best Buy had available were all snapped up quickly by shoppers who had waited in line outside for more than 24 hours.

Hu also planned to buy an iPod and portable DVD player as gifts for his children.

"It doesn't really matter to me," Hu said of the midnight opening. "If there's a good deal, it doesn't matter to me what time it's at. And it's for the kids."

With the hour drawing closer to midnight, traffic picked up along Illinois Highway 159 as lines grew outside store after store from Kohl's to Old Navy to Macy's in Fairview Heights. Meanwhile, the nearly McDonald's drive-thru was packed with shoppers fueling up for the late-night shopping.  

This Black Friday has been dubbed lots of things — "Black Thursday" and "Black Midnight," for example — as retailers have once again pushed back their opening times into Thanksgiving Day.

Some store employees and consumers balked when several large retailers announced that they would open at midnight this year, including Target, Macy's, Best Buy, and Kohl's. Critics said that doing so would mean that many workers — and shoppers — would end up cutting their family time short.

Amanda Norman, a nurse assistant from Lebanon, came to stand in line at the Best Buy in Fairview Heights straight from work at 11 a.m. She skipped out on her family's Thanksgiving celebration so she could get good deals on Christmas presents for her son.

She actually agrees with critics who think Thanksgiving should be reserved for family.

"It should be that way," Norman said, "but the way the economy is, you need to save every dollar."

In a sign of the economic times, among the hottest draws at Toys R Us in Fairview Heights were diapers. At $10 for a pack of up to 96 diapers, the pile was mostly depleted by 10:30 p.m.

Retailers also say consumers have indicated they would actually prefer trekking out to the stores after Thanksgiving dinner — or even instead of eating dinner — rather than waking before the crack of dawn the next day. And, retailers added, they felt pressure to keep up with their competitors.

Becky and Dave Schoolcraft were among the throngs at Lake St. Louis Walmart Thursday night.

Dave Schoolcraft, 38, said he preferred the late-night excursion to previous early-morning waits in line in sometimes frigid weather. Last year, they were in line at Target when temps were freezing.

"It's better than waiting until 4 a.m.," he said.

Many shopping malls in the region — including West County Center, Mid Rivers Mall, St. Clair Square, Chesterfield Mall and the St. Louis Galleria — also opened their doors at midnight to allow stores that wanted to open then to do so. The rest of the mall stores were to open at 5 or 6 a.m. today.

But the midnight openings weren't the earliest. Walmart rolled out its first round of doorbusters at 10 p.m. Thursday. Toys R Us took the worm by opening at 9 p.m. — notwithstanding retailers such as Kmart, Old Navy and Walgreens, which are open during daytime hours on Thanksgiving every year.

LINE STARTED TUESDAY

At the Best Buy in Fairview Heights, Melinda Newell and Harold Schaedler of Belleville were the first in line. They arrived on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Yes, more than 48 hours in advance.

It was their first time camping out for Black Friday deals. They did so for a 42-inch TV for $198.

"I'm not sure if I will come out again next year," said Newell, a bus driver. "It depends on how good the deals are."

Many people in line came well-fortified. One group even had a fire pit to warm their hands as the temperatures began to drop into the 40s when the sun went down.

The crowds were generally well-behaved, though there were exceptions. Becky Schoolcraft, 36, said a tussle ensued when customers broke into an unmanned pallet of games at Walmart. She was knocked to the ground, she said.

"Some people helped me up, though," she said. "That was nice of them."

By 11 p.m., the line at the St. Charles Target store near I-70 and Cave Springs Boulevard stretched around the corner and halfway up the block toward Muegge Road. Generator powered lights silhouetted the line of bargain seekers, but at the back, faces were lit only by the glow of cellphones and tablets.

Temperatures were in the mid to upper 40s, much warmer than the wee hours of Black Friday last year. Still, shoppers wrapped themselves in blankets, huddled together and shuffled their feet to shake the chill.

First in line were twin sisters Terri Mills and Traci Russell, 38, Mills' son Spencer, 12, and nephew Cooper Miils, 17.

They had arrived at noon with a tent and a propane heater. They were looking for a TV, a camera and a few other items. They had store maps and a plan.

"We are going to divide and conquer," Mills said.

Many retailers also began offering online deals on Thanksgiving Day to try to pre-empt some of the in-store shopping the rest of the weekend. The online promotions will then culminate with Cyber Monday, the first workday after Thanksgiving weekend when most online retailers offer promotions.

Black Friday retail sales — and the holiday shopping season as a whole — is closely watched by economists and analysts because retail sales fuel more than two-thirds of economic activity.

Amid a still-sluggish economy and high unemployment, more consumers were expected to hit Black Friday sales this year. The International Council on Shopping Centers says 34 percent of consumers said they planned to shop this day compared with 31 percent last year and 26 percent in 2009.

So who are these Black Friday shoppers who wait for hours in the cold when they could be at home snuggled in bed?

"You do have small segments of passionate consumers who are the anomalies — the extremes, you know, the extreme couponing people," said James Russo, vice president of consumer insights for Nielsen.

But Black Friday isn't just about extreme consumers.

"For a lot of consumers, it's a social gathering," he said. "It's an event. They go with their family and friends."

After all, about 90 percent of consumers who said they planned to shop Black Friday this year said they've done it before, according to Nielsen. Only 9 percent of them were expected to be newcomers to the shopping ritual.

Michael Niemira, chief economist for the shopping center council, said the typical Black Friday shopper is most likely to come from lower- to middle-income households.

But Russo said it's hard to generalize an income bracket for these shoppers.

"You can't say it's just low to middle income — or just Baby Boomers," he said. "There's a broad spectrum it appeals to."

What ties all of these shoppers together is they are all looking for value, Russo said.

Shane Anthony, Cindy Billhartz-Gregorian, Stephen Deere, Lisa Brown, Joel Currier and Georgina Gustin of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Kavita Kumar covers retail and consumer affairs for the Post-Dispatch. She blogs on Consumer Central. On Twitter, follow her @kavitakumar and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

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