The weather was beautiful, the road construction was finished, the stores were full of merchandise.
But the morning crowd at Franklin Park Mall was, well, average.
Aisles weren’t packed, checkout lines were short, and mall hallways looked more like they do on an average Friday rather than on Black Friday — the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.
Fremont's Julie Boice, left, and Cheyenne Niekamp, 21, of St. Marys, Ohio, shop at Rue 21 on Black Friday at the Franklin Park Mall in Toledo.
Shopper and others attributed Friday’s casual shopping experience to two things: more online shopping and more stores opening on Thursday, thereby robbing Friday of its traditional buzz.
“Compared to the years there wasn’t Thursday shopping, I think that makes a lot of difference. The hardcore shoppers are done and gone by the time we get here now,” said Judy Pfund, of Morenci, Mich.
She arrived at the mall at 7:45 a.m. with her friend Julie Kauffman, also of Morenci, and said she encountered shorter lines, decent discounts, and a better shopping experience.
“It’s not like it used to be,” agreed Ms. Kauffman. “It’s Black November now. You start getting [bargains] much earlier than today.”
The National Retail Federation is predicting holiday spending this season will increase between 3.6 and 4 percent for a total of up to $682 billion.
But from the East Coast to the West Coast and even up in Alaska on Friday, retailers reported seeing a milder Black Friday with sparser crowds and less hectic activity.
“The turnout this morning has been relatively slow but it is still the best we have seen in three years. We expect it to pick up as the day progresses,” said Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resources Group, a consultancy with seven researchers out in the field.
Indeed, in Toledo that very scenario played out at Franklin Park, the area’s premier mall, with slow activity from the 6 a.m. opening until noon, but increasing foot traffic from noon on.
“It seems since we’ve been opening on Thanksgiving it takes that rush and just spreads it over more hours, which is what the retail managers were saying this morning. They said that the sales and traffic are great but it’s more manageable,” said Casey Pogan, Franklin Park’s spokesman.
Morenci, Mich. residents Judy Pfund, left, and Julie Kauffman leaave JC Penney as they shop on Black Friday at the Franklin Park Mall in Toledo.
Manageable foot traffic was just fine with Lisa Bowser, of St. Mary’s, Ohio, who was at the mall with four family members and happy to avoid any crowds.
“Shopping on Thursday has really damaged the true Black Friday,” she said. “But we don’t necessarily come for the deals. We come for the camaraderie. So it benefits us.”
Likewise, 16-year-old Janelle Woods, of Adrian, Mich., was pleased to arrive at the mall at 8 a.m. with two friends and find the bargains good and the crowds sparse.
“It was a little more crowded than a normal day but really only one store was terrible. It’s not super crowded and that surprised me,” Miss Woods said.
But Black Friday was not totally absent of its usual craziness.
Ms. Pogan said about 100 shoppers eagerly dashed into Dick’s Sporting Goods at its 5 a.m. opening, and likewise shoppers lined up to rush into the Pink women’s apparel store and the GameStop video game store.
Kim Hibbett, of Toledo, was among those who made a mad dash into Dillard’s at 8 a.m. for its holiday sale on brand-name lady’s purses. Ms. Hibbett got a Coach purse originally priced nearly $200 for just $60.
“That was the best deal,” she said.
But she also scored a great deal at J.C. Penney on Thursday — a complete outfit and a little bow for her 3-year-old niece that, with a store coupon, ended up costing just $1.
Phil Kajca, owner of the J. Foster Jeweler stores at Franklin Park and at the Shops at Fallen Timbers mall in Maume, said despite slower traffic on Friday, sales are trending up this year.
“We were not open Thursday and I think the mall being open Thursday kind of diluted foot traffic on Friday,” he said of his Franklin Park stores. “But if you look at the shoppers [Friday], it’s a lot of self-shoppers, not necessarily Christmas shoppers. My gut feeling is when I see women walk by with Victoria’s Secret bags, they’re shopping today for their daughters or themselves. It’s not for Christmas just yet and that will come later.”
For Maumee-based The Appliance Center, Friday was a tale of two stores. Its original Maumee store had many customers waiting to get in for its 8 a.m. opening, but only a handful of customers awaited the opening of the retailer’s new “Living” Appliance Center store on Monroe Street in Sylvania.
Owner John Oswald chalked up the difference to the Monroe Street store having only opened on Nov. 18.
“People are still finding us here,” he said of the new store, which features appliances in 24 full kitchen displays.
But as Friday wore on, more customers arrived at the new store, pleasing the owner.
Black Friday “is definitely a weekend event now. The manufacturers want to support the rebate programs, the financing option, they do it over four or five days now,” he said.
“Last year Saturday was busier than Friday. Now the fact that we’re able to reach more people being 12 miles away from Maumee certainly helps. There were always people saying it’s too long a drive from Monroe or Michigan and now we can reach then easier,” Mr. Oswald said.
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