Black Friday conjures images of huge crowds battling for the last remaining discounted big-screen TV, but local shoppers who hit the stores Friday were more likely to hit an empty line than an angry mass, as stores seemed more sparsely populated than normal for the annual holiday sales.

Bonnie Latimer woke up at 4:30 a.m. to go shopping with her niece Tabitha. The two started out at the Owings Mills Toys "R" Us before heading north and hitting big-box stores along the way. At Big Lots, in Westminster, they looked through selections of Christmas decorations and cards.


Bonnie said she was shocked at how few people were out and about in the early hours of the morning.

"We got in and out of both Walmart and the mall. There was no problem with checkout lines. Everything we wanted was there," Bonnie said. "I think it's because the sale prices aren't quite as good, and a lot of the sales were only available on Thanksgiving. We don't come out on Thursday. I will not shop on Thanksgiving."

Clint Held, of Elderburg, rides a cart full of holiday decorations during Black Friday shopping at Big Lots in Westminster on Nov. 25, 2016.
Clint Held, of Elderburg, rides a cart full of holiday decorations during Black Friday shopping at Big Lots in Westminster on Nov. 25, 2016. (Alan White / Carroll County Times)

Many of Big Lots' major sales were one-day-only opportunities available just on Thanksgiving. That aside though, on Black Friday, discounts were still featured on things like "Frozen" toys, "Trolls" dolls and other stocking stuffers.

Sherry Snyder, who was out shopping with her family, had her own theory about why stores were not as packed as expected.

"I think it's all because of the internet shopping," Snyder said. "I did some this morning before I left."

Snyder said she found some great deals throughout the day, including a huge price cut on an Android tablet. She said it's deals like those that keep her returning to stores every year.

Nearly two decades ago, Kyle Meloche started mentioning to students that he had room if they needed a place to spend the holiday.

A downturn in Black Friday shopping doesn't only affect retailers. Girl Scout Troop 2226 set up its cookie booth outside Old Navy, in Westminster, to try to sell to eager Black Friday shoppers. Alexandra Watts, 11, of the troop, said they've gone out to sell on Black Friday for several years. After doing so well at Old Navy last year, they returned again, only to find a slight downturn in potential cookie buyers.

On the other hand, Audrey Cavalancia and her granddaughter Gabrielle Magalotti were helped by the lack of crowds Friday afternoon. As the two shopped for clothes at Marshalls, Cavalancia said she couldn't believe the light traffic and easy parking they encountered. Each year, Cavalancia takes a different granddaughter out shopping with her.

"I have nine granddaughters, and she's the youngest, so this year, she got voted in, Cavalancia said. "We're mostly picking up some things for her. Looking at a lot of clothes."

Despite the many different reasons people gave for heading out and shopping, one thing was consistent: heading out together as a family on Black Friday is a treasured tradition.

Melanie McGregor said she's spent 20 years coming out to shop on Black Friday with her family. To dress for the day, McGregor wore an original T-shirt she made six years ago to wear each year on the holiday. The shirt mimics the MasterCard "Priceless" ad campaign rewritten to be about the joys of Black Friday shopping.

When I found out my grandson had a day off from school on the day before Thanksgiving I asked if I could have him for the day. I'd heard good things about the Lincoln Train Museum. Since he loves trains, we took off for Gettysburg as soon as I'd finished chopping celery and onion for our turkey day stuffing. But the trip to the museum was a lot more than a train excursion. We were transferred back in time to the days of Lincoln, and the entire history lesson — complete with trains —

McGregor said that although the deals are nice, they're not her primary reason for coming out to shop for two straight decades.

"It's more about coming together and hanging out and spending time with the family," she said. "We're going to make a day of it, grab some lunch at Panera. It's just a great chance for the whole family to get together and go out and do something."