Shortly before 5 a.m., Alexis Hawkinson pulled into the parking lot of a Kohl’s department store in St. Louis Park and met her in-laws for the return of a family tradition: shopping early in the morning on Black Friday.
“We decided to beat the crowd,” said Hawkinson, 29, of Plymouth. “We thought it would be quieter rather than going in the middle of the day when things are sorted out. “
They were right. Only about half a dozen cars were in Kohl’s parking lot. Ten years ago, the first mornings of Black Friday produced chaotic scenes of crowds of shoppers trying to enter stores, pick up heavily discounted items, and move on to the next store.
But in recent years, retailers have started discounting earlier and carrying the same offers online as in-store. The frenzy around Black Friday has subsided, and last year pandemic-related closures further hampered Black Friday as an “event.”
For retailers and health experts, the behavior of buyers this Black Friday will provide insight into what Americans think about the economy and the pandemic.
Surveys in recent weeks have shown that, as usual, consumers expect to spend more on holiday gifts and food than last year. But with inflation at its highest level in 30 years, higher prices will account for more of the gain than in recent years.
Large groups of people, not as many as in the pre-pandemic years but not far away, were standing around the entrances to the Mall of America in Bloomington before it opened at 7 a.m. Midday pedestrian traffic was more than double the number recorded by the mall last year, a mall manager said.
And across the region, stores and malls got busier and busier as the day wore on. Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan were packed Friday afternoon, with many struggling to find parking. Many stores have limited the number of people allowed inside, creating long lines outside in cold weather.
Sisters Kari Tianen, 37, of Burnsville, and Jess Davich, 43, Eagan, endured the cold in a line outside the Under Armor Factory House in the mall. They shopped mostly online last year and said they were happy to go out and find gifts for their children.
“It’s just starting the holiday season,” Davich said.
“We’ve never seen it so crazy,” Tianen said. “It’s great to see all these people but also [COVID-19] the numbers are up, so be careful. “
Some people headed to places they thought were less crowded. In the shopping district of the 50th and France, Julie Millikan browsed several stores and planned to meet an uncle for lunch at a nearby restaurant. “I like going to places like this if I’m going shopping on Black Friday because they’re quiet,” she said.
Inside Coccinella, a Mediterranean gift shop in the 50th and in France, the traffic during the first hour or so of the day was higher than expected. Umut Kaplan, who was helping her parents, the store owners, said they had even higher hopes for Saturday, which many retailers and credit card merchants are encouraging to shop at small businesses.
For many people, shopping with family members, especially those visiting from a distance, is a Thanksgiving long weekend ritual.
Letitia Holloway, from Chicago, visited her daughter’s Wisconsin home for Thanksgiving, then the two made their way to the Mall of America on Friday morning. “The crowd and seeing everyone waiting in line patiently was just exciting,” she said.
Edina’s Annie Olson has been shopping on Black Friday at the mall a few times. She stood in line with a large group of family members, including her nieces and daughters, for two hours before the doors opened at 7 a.m. “It’s nice to be outside,” Olson said. “We really came for fun. “
Kate Kuyper and several family members drove from Northfield to visit the Southdale Center in Edina before 8 a.m. They went their separate ways for a few hours of shopping, then got back together. “We like him a lot better now than [Black Friday] is quieter, ”Kuyper said.
There was a short line outside Best Buy in Maplewood before staff opened the doors to 6. Heather Cassell, 42, of Little Canada, had no plans to go shopping. Black Friday stores, but she decided at the last minute to join her sons at Best Buy. “It will be a little Christmas this year,” she said, sipping a hot drink.
Cassell decided to buy a sound bar before heading to other stores. She used to go out for Black Friday shopping and stand in line outside, but she’s stopped in recent years because it would get too chaotic. “It’s calmer,” she said.
Daniella Valencia, 21, who was from Mexico, decided to grab a laptop as she was shopping with her mother on Friday morning.
“This year it’s all about me,” she laughed.
The same seemed to be true of Zack Van Pelt, who walked into Macy’s department store in Southdale with his girlfriend just when it opened at 6 a.m. The couple walked over to the men’s suits. When asked if he was sure he could find a market there, Van Pelt replied, “What’s not for sale?
Leslie Cheney of St. Louis Park said she is increasingly shopping online to find gifts for friends and family. Her annual early morning visit to Southdale on Black Friday is for herself.
“Shopping for myself, I like to see things in person,” she said.