The Baltimore Sun
2:48 PM EST, November 25, 2011
As shoppers find the best Black Friday deals and swipe their credit cards, The Baltimore Sun shares their stories.
Deals 'better than what we thought'
Shortly after 9 a.m., drivers circled the multi-level parking lots at Towson Town Center looking for spots, shoppers lugged around bags past stores promoting discounts of up to half off and food court tables filled up with an early lunch crowd.
Macy's had opened at midnight, and about two dozen mall stores opened with the department store or as early as 3 a.m. Annie Wildasin, the mall's senior marketing manager, said one of those retailers, who she could not identify, ushered 1,200 people in the doors between midnight and 2 a.m., while another said it did three days worth of business in two hours. At 6 a.m., mall workers handed out 500 scratch-off prize cards in 15 minutes, offering chances at some big prizes, among them a Tiffany & Co. necklace and an Apple I Pad.
Marguerite Burton of Gwynn Oak had been on the hunt for bargains for hours by that time with her sister, Erin Burton, and cousin, Robin Gaskins. They started Thursday evening at Walmart, stopped at Game Stop then took a break at home to sleep for an hour. By mid-morning all three women toted bags full of clothes and shoes, some for themselves, but mostly gifts for their nieces and nephews, through Towson Town Center, where they had started at 6:45 a.m.
"I got some deals here today," Marguerite Burton said.
"Yeah, better than what we thought," added Gaskins.
A line of some 80 people was waiting when American Eagle Outfitters opened at midnight. By mid-morning shoppers browsed the racks and lined up at the register. Customers were entertained by two store employees who danced while listening to music through the headphones built into their hats and earmuffs– one of the store's specials at $12.40.
"I found what I wanted in the first store I went into," said Jackie Horton of Towson, who bought a jacket for her son and, at American Eagle, one of the headphone hats. "This is the first time I've enjoyed my (Black Friday) shopping. I'm finished and it's not even 10 o'clock."
For Macy's department stores across the country, a midnight opening was a first.
"We did not know what to expect, but we had hundreds of people come in," said Jain Trader, a vice president and store manager of Macy's in Towson Town Center. "We had great business for a couple of hours, then it died down and we replenished (the shelves) before the mall opened. We did this in response to what customers asked for. We gave them more time to shop."
The department store's earliest Black Friday customers headed first to the specials such as children's coats for $16.99, and boots, fragrances and cosmetics. Trader said the department store also did brisk business on discounted luggage.
Quick stop before work
Near the Inner Harbor, employees stopped by stores to pick up bargains on the way to work.
Isaac Klein, a criminal defense lawyer in downtown Baltimore, picked up a 37-inch flat screen at Best Buy before heading to his office nearby. Klein said a friend of his was among the first in line on Thanksgiving Day at the Best Buy, which opened at midnight.
"I slept in," the lawyer said. Even so, he managed to get the TV he wanted for $200 less than the usual price.
Sleep in, still save
Last year, Sandy Phung and her mother hit Walmart around 4 a.m.
"It was just horrible," Phung recalled. "I got good deals … but people were pushing to get in the stores and stepping on each other."
This year, the 20-year-old cafeteria cashier slept in until 7:30 or so before heading to Best Buy near the Inner Harbor. She managed to get one of the few remaining Samsung laptops, paying $299 and saving about $500. She saved $50 more buying three pairs of shoes for her niece and nephew.
Monitoring the wallet
Cynthia Eley of Baltimore sat in the lobby at The Gallery at Harbor Place around 10 a.m., taking a break from a shopping trip that started at 7:30 a.m.
A phone operator for a state agency, Eley said her goal is to spend less this holiday season than a year ago, although the deals are tempting. She said she shops with cash to avoid overspending. "If I don't have the money for it, I am just not going to buy," she said.
Shoppers began lining up outside the Best Buy near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore around 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving. By the time the electronics store opened at midnight, more than 350 shoppers were in a line that snaked around the corner.
"The line was eight times larger than last year," said Ron Mara, general manager of the downtown store.
Mara said shoppers were enticed by the deep discounts, such as a 55-inch Samsung for $999. Mara bought the same model last year for $1,899.
Many of them wore Ravens jerseys, he said, coming straight from the game to the store.
"Although it was a lot of people, they were happy," he said. "They were in great spirits."
Of course, the fact that the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers might have had something to do with their moods.
"That makes a difference when your team wins," Mara agreed.
He said sales so far have been strong and up from last year, although declined to give out numbers.
Consumers "were out in force. They were spending," Mara said.
Mara said his wife and two brothers work for other retailers, and all of them texted each other during the early hours of Black Friday with the same message: What recession?
The long hours aren't over for Mara and his employees. Workers will be back at 6 a.m. on Cyber Monday to pull items off the shelf to be picked up by consumers who purchased them online.
David Diaz checked out the Best Buy store Thanksgiving night, but seeing the crowd snaking around the corner convinced him he would be better off spending his time watching the Ravens game on TV. The Fells Point resident returned late Friday morning and reported a pleasantly calm shopping experience.
"All the sales they had last night they still had this morning," he said.
Friday morning in Harbor East was quiet. Retailers opened at 10 a.m., but the shoppers tend to visit the area in late afternoon after visiting the big box stores in the early morning, said George Sakellaris, owner of the Handbags in the City in the Harbor East.
Plan and conquer
Big sellers at the Dick's Sporting Goods store in Glen Burnie on Black Friday included $169 kayaks, treadmills that came with Android tablets and 30 percent off college and pro sports gear.
But Lori Pasquele was there for one thing: running pants for her sister-in-law. The Severna Park woman scours the ads ever year and gets to the stores early. She'd already been to three stores by 10 a.m. Friday, including Walmart on Thanksgiving night.
She got to the store at 9:30 p.m. to get in line for an Xbox 360 Kinect for $199 plus a $50 gift card.
"I look at the ads and compare prices to see who has the best deals," said Pasquele, who exuded the seasonal spirit in a snowflake fleece. "In some stores like Walmart it helps to have two people so you can kind of divide and conquer. Today it was just me conquering."
That's OK, she said, pleased with her haul so far. Next, she planned to go to the Target and the Under Armour outlet to look for a shirt to go with the running pants.
Once and done
Joe and Lu Greenwood of Odenton have never shopped on Black Friday before.
"I'm not about to battle the crowds and stand in a long line," he said. "You get to the point where the savings just aren't worth it."
But when he saw an ad for the exact computer desk he's been wanting for $55 off at Staples, he decided to break the shopping ban and head to the store in Glen Burnie. He got the last one; managers said they had also run out of $264 HP desktop computers and sold a lot of software, printers and other furniture.
Lu Greenwood said the holiday is important and so is gift-giving, especially for the grandkids. But she prefers online shopping and had already gotten all the way through her list from the comfort of home.
"This was kind of a hit and run," she said of the Staples trip, adding that if she saw a big crowd at the store she would have probably waited in the truck.
"We're going straight home now."
Eight hours of shopping
Marcela Lopez, her 4-year-old daughter and two friends got to Arundel Mills at 12:30 a.m. Friday and were just finishing up eight hours later.
"We're tired — very tired," said Lopez, resting on a bench with her sleeping daughter in her arms.
The mall in Hanover was packed when they started and less crowded than a typical weekend day by the end, with plenty of empty parking spaces.
Lopez, a housekeeper from Silver Spring, declared the full day of shopping worth it. Her purchases included a 32-inch flat screen television for $279.
Wendy Ellis, director of marketing and business development at Arundel Mills, said mall staffers gave T-shirts — "I came! I shopped! I saved!" — to the first 500 people through each of the seven mall entrances and ran out 10 minutes after the midnight opening. More than 7,000 sales fliers were handed out to customers during the first four hours, Ellis said.
She said she's used to seeing the mall get a big rush and then a lull on Black Friday, followed by an increase around lunchtime as shoppers who went home to sleep return.
— Jamie Smith Hopkins
Scuffle ends some shoppers' days early
Not everybody was in the holiday spirit at Westfield Annapolis mall.
Long lines formed immediately after midnight in H&M, a clothing store offering big sales, and an altercation of some kind broke out among customers, the mall general manager Patrick Madden said.
Three patrons were escorted out of the mall as a result but were not arrested. Madden said he did not know what caused the dispute.
Black Friday, which began early for them, also ended early.
Opening the doors
In the Black Friday faceoff between "stay up late" and "get up early," stay up late appears to have won.
Westfield Annapolis mall general manager Patrick Madden said that in the hours between midnight and 3 a.m., the crowds were as large as the mall sees on the final Saturday before Christmas.
"Everyone thinks Black Friday is our biggest shopping day," said Madden. "But it is really the last Saturday before Christmas, and it was just wall-to-wall people."
People tapped their watches impatiently outside retailers who were waiting for the clock to tick past midnight. The busiest stores were American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic, Vera Bradley and Aeropostale, which were offering deep discounts for the first hour or so.
The crowds thinned to a trickle before dawn, but the parking lot in Annapolis was packed again by 8:30 a.m. as the crowds returned for a more normal shopping experience.
Wendy Zurenko and her daughter Casey, 16, and friend Jordan Rolley, 16, of Calvert County were among the early birds. By 6:30 a.m., they'd been to their car twice to drop off packages.
"I never went to bed," said Casey, who bought something for her boyfriend but found many more bargains for herself.
Mom Wendy saved a bundle on college linens for her son at J.C. Penney. "About $140," she said, raising her Starbucks coffee cup in a kind of salute. "Next are the outlets in Queenstown."
Krista Schline, 16, of Pasadena was curled up on a lounging spot in the middle of Westfield Annapolis, fading fast. She and her mother, Linda, and sister Destiny, 12, had been out since 1 a.m. Krista had stayed up all night, while her mom and sister caught a pre-shopping nap.
They'd found lots of bargain, Linda said, but her husband, David, wasn't due to pick them up until 9 a.m.
Are you going to make it, Krista was asked. "No," she replied.
Meanwhile, in the LoveSac furniture, where sink-down-into-it-comfort is for sale, employees and a friend had their feet up after a busy couple of early morning hours when everything in the store was 30 percent off. They looked just as wiped out as Krista Schline.
"Sit down and try it out," said manager Brad Mamalis to a 6:30 a.m. visitor. "I might never get up," was the reply.
Breakfast of champions
The biggest deal for Steffany Thompson, 27, of Glen Burnie was eating sushi at 7 a.m. "This is the best deal I'm going to get all day," she said, swiping her chopsticks in the food court at Westfield Annapolis. "It is going to go down fast."
Across the table, Thompson's boyfriend, Tom Marr, 29, was eating Chinese for breakfast. "There is something wrong with her," he said. "She will eat sushi anytime."
Meanwhile Thompson cousin Corey Majerowicz munched Chick-Fil-A. It was the 17-year-old's first Black Friday, and he was unimpressed.
"I just came along to see what it was like," said the bagless young man. "It is just like shopping any other time, but in the middle of the night."
Across the way, Sbarro's said it sold 40 pizzas in a couple of hours right after midnight.
Never to bed, early to shop
Off the 223 stores in Westfield Annapolis, 80 percent were open at midnight as Westfield chose Annapolis as one of 15 locations to open early.
"Our focus groups tell us that people would rather stay up late than have to get up early," said general manager Patrick Madden.
Nordstrom chose to open at 7 a.m. while the Apple store set its own hours, too, opening at 6 a.m. The biggest crowds at Apple were at the iPad "table," where deep discounts were available.
"That wasn't on the list when we started," said Kristin McConnell, in Annapolis to visit family for the holidays with husband Patrick, a Naval Academy graduate in Marine officer training in Quantico, Va. "But it is wheedling is way on to it."
At Best Buy in Timonium, the midnight rush of about a thousand shoppers had tapered off by the early morning hours.
Matt Dawson, store manager, said there had been over a thousand people in line by midnight with the first shoppers lining up as early as 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
Limited quantity $199 42-inch TVs were sold out about 45 minutes after the store opened.
"So far, so good," Dawson said. "There was a lot of excitement with customers being here at midnight and shopping. I guess it's easier for people to stay up late."
He said the store stayed busy for a couple of hours after opening and tapered off. Tablet computers, TVs, laptops and gaming systems were hot sellers, he said.
One shopper, Jo Ann Pertee, of Towson, said she had to drag her two sons, ages 11 and 12, out with her at 6 a.m.
She was buying the boys an XBox 360 on sale for $199.
"I brought them along so they could get exactly what they wanted," she said.
Pertee said she expects to spend the same amount as she did last year on gifts. "This year is good, prices are good," she said.
Originally, she said she planned to go to Best Buy at midnight, but after driving home from a Thanksgiving dinner with her sister in Upper Marlboro, she came home — and woke up at 4 a.m.
After Best Buy, she said she planned to drop her sons off at home and head back out to Walmart.
Melanie Dorwart, of Towson, with her fiancé, Scott Gilley, of Bel Air, was shopping for electronics, cameras and iPods at Best Buy. The couple said they had never shopped on Black Friday before.
"I do all my purchasing online, so this is my first excursion into the real world," Gilley said. "I'm trying to get ideas for her."
They both said they were impressed with the appearance of the store after its midnight opening.
"I thought the store would be a wreck," Dorwart said.
"After opening at midnight, I thought they wouldn't have much selection," said Gilley.
They considered coming to the store at midnight after Thanksgiving, but "we had too much turkey and stuffing and were tired," Dorwart said.
By 6 a.m. at Target in Cockeysville, there was no sign of the rush from the night before.
Shoppers browsed well-stocked aisles, and plenty of Target employees stood by offering to help them. Customers moved quickly through registers with no lines.
Sisters-in-laws Sandra and Angie Robinson started their annual Black Friday shopping tradition there at 6 a.m.
"It's kind of quiet in here," Sandra Robinson said.
They planned to go to Walmart, Kohl's and Toys "R" Us looking for gifts for their kids. Angie Robinson said she bought two iPod touches at Target and got $40 gift cards with the purchase of each one.
"It's kind of fun to go out together and to brainstorm off each other," Sandra Robinson said.
After working a busy midnight to 4 a.m. shift at GameStop, Michael Shipley, 23, went out to do his own shopping. By 6:30, he had already been to Best Buy, Walmart and Kohl's. He said he found great deals at Best Buy on video games, Blue Ray DVDs and tablet computer.
"I couldn't find anything at Walmart. They didn't have many deals," he said.
Shipley said he never shopped on Black Friday before because he always had to work, but a couple of days ago, he and a friend from GameStop decided to head out after their shift ended at 4 a.m.
Target executive team leader Justin Bruner said the line wrapped around the store when it opened at midnight. Door-buster deals on three models of TVs were sold out in 15 minutes, he said.
"We were really busy with the initial rush, but since then it has been steady and not a mad house," Bruner said.
Sherry Ayers, of Mount Washington, said she woke up at 4 a.m. and thought, "'Oh, the stores are open and I should go in."
Ayers said "dad is at home with the kids and they are all sleeping."
She said she found deals on toys, CDs and video games for her kids — ages 4, 11, and 14 — including a Nerf gun and a pink cash register for her youngest.
Tracey Carpenter of Lutherville was shopping with her mom and two sisters, a regular Black Friday tradition.
"Everyone is together for the holidays and this is our thing, to go shopping," she said.
After Target, they planned to go to Starbucks and then Dick's Sporting Goods, the same route they took late year.
"Last year was crazy, now it's so quiet," Carpenter said, but she said she missed the typical early morning frenzy.
"I kind of like the chaos," she said.
She said she found deals at Target on a Nikon camera and fuzzy jackets for her nieces.
Huge wish list
Kristin Ridgely of Glen Burnie came to the J.C. Penney at Marley Station Mall on a mission to get presents and toys for her family — especially toys.
Her 6-year-old son, Zander, has a huge wish list.
"He gave me the entire toy book circled," she said. "He wants one of everything."
She arrived at the store about 6 a.m. Friday, saying she didn't like the idea of starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving.
She heard some people were lining up as early as Wednesday at some stores.
"It's absolutely insane," she said.
—Jamie Smith Hopkins
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