Black Friday crowds seemed smaller and calmer this year, according to local shoppers who hit the stores bright and early to find deals on everything from televisions to kitty litter.
“It seems like the last two years the crowds really have died down,” said Dara Hagen, who drove to Fairview Heights from Breese to shop at St. Clair Square shopping mall Thursday night and Friday morning.
Hagen, who has shopped on Black Friday every year for about eight years, said she was looking for clothes for her son, as well as household items like kitty litter. Other shoppers, like Jessica Jansen, 16, of Germantown, said they waited in lines up to 45 minutes to just enter one store in the Fairview Heights mall.
Jansen waited outside Pink, an affiliate of Victoria Secret, for about 45 minutes with two of her friends from Central High School in Breese. She said she was willing to wait because, “Pink is life.” Specifically, she was there for a deal on leggings—$25 per pair.
Around 6 a.m., about 150 people had lined up for a bag of free coupons and goodies from mall workers, according to Natalie Gannon, 19, of St. Louis. She was handing out bags to people, and she said everyone was mostly nice, though shoppers tried to convince her to start handing out the bags early. One bag contained a coupon for a free pair of diamond earrings from JCPenney.
Though shoppers said they will do a mixture of shopping online and in-person this year, most Black Friday participants said braving the early-morning crowds is not just about the deals—they enjoy the spectacle and the experience of going out for the traditional start to the Christmas shopping season.
One shopper from Willisville, Tiffany Choate, 31, said she comes out for the “excitement.” She was also waiting in line at Pink, looking for gifts for her daughter. Choate’s friend, Jenifer Graves, 32, said she was looking for a self-balancing scooter, a popular gift this year.
Steve Marshall, 31, of Belleville, said he bought two big-screen televisions from Best Buy marked at $479 each, down from $799. He said he might do some more shopping on Cyber Monday, the day when retailers market deals online. Saving on sales tax and sometimes finding a lower price online is appealing, Marshall added.
“But you gotta sit and wait for it to come. I’m impatient. Very impatient,” Marshall said with a laugh about shopping online.
Though shops boasted 40 percent to 50 percent off everything in the store, shoppers didn’t seem to be taking any shortcuts to get to the deals, said Robert Campbell, an investigator for the Illinois Secretary of State Department of Police. Campbell has covered Black Friday for the past eight years or so and said this year things were “pretty quiet.” He patrolled the parking lot at St. Clair Square on Friday looking for handicap parking violations.
As of mid-morning, there were no violations or car crashes, Campbell said, though he spent some time “shooing” people out of fire lanes.
Some retailers like Wal-Mart and Kohl’s offered the same deals online as in-store, CNBC reported Friday. Nationwide, retailers racked up $1.93 billion in online sales on Thanksgiving alone. According to the news channel, retailers were expected to bring in more than $3 billion in online sales on Black Friday, up 11.3 percent from 2015.
A line of shoppers around electronics store Best Buy wrapped around the building before the 8 a.m. opening, said Manager Dan Haverstick. They were looking for deals on televisions and mobile phones, he said. Apple products seemed popular, as did large televisions for home theaters, Haverstick added.
Virtual reality headsets also are making their way onto Christmas lists this year, Haverstick said. His store stocked the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR headsets.
“People seem more interested this year. There’s more appeal, and more people are talking about it,” Haverstick said.
Local business groups, meanwhile, encouraged shoppers to go out again on Saturday for Small Business Saturday in an effort to support small, locally owned shops.