Black Friday shoppers on the prowl for deals

Maureen Feighan, and James David Dickson

A steady rain didn’t detract thousands of bargain-hunting Metro Detroit shoppers from flocking to area retailers on Black Friday as they searched for great deals on everything from flat screen TVs to toys.

Area malls had steady traffic throughout the day, though many shoppers said the crowds weren’t nearly as big as previous years. And with so many retailers now open on Thanksgiving evening and rolling out online deals throughout the week leading up to Black Friday, some customers said it wasn’t nearly as exciting this year.

“It’s usually a two-hour line at Kohl’s,” said Ceres Jett of Warren, who was at the checkout line at 6 a.m. at Kohl’s on John R. in Troy, where she picked up two shopping carts full of pajamas, pillows, a shower curtain and more.

This year, Jett and her family walked right into the store, which was open all night.

According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million shoppers planned to shop Thanksgiving Weekend this year, including Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. And it expects sales overall for November and December to rise 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion compared with the same period last year.

Businesses and shopping centers prepare all year long for this day.

Denise Murray, director of marketing and business development at Briarwood Mall, said that "Black Friday is our Super Bowl."

She said that it brings a "great sense of excitement" to the holiday season, with stores opening early and staying open late. Briarwood does not release figures on how many visitors circulate through the mall, or how a normal day would compare with Black Friday, but Stephen Petrecivic, a manager at Williams-Sonoma, called the day an opportunity to bring in shoppers who may not normally consider the high-end kitchen supply store.

"Black Friday brings in a different type of customer," he said. How those visitors become buyers and those buyers become regulars, he said, comes down to one word: "service."

Many retailers staggered their deals throughout the week, offering deals as early as Monday and then selling special doorbusters on both Thanksgiving night and Black Friday.

The Best Buy on John R. south of 14 Mile in Madison Heights — which opened on Thanksgiving but closed at 1 a.m. Friday before reopening at 8 a.m. — was one of the few stores with a line stretching out into the parking lot at 7:45 a.m. Dozens of shoppers clutched umbrellas and wore raincoats, waiting for the doors open. Some were frustrated that deals that were supposed to be available on Friday were already gone.

“How were they (flat-screen TVs) gone yesterday, and it’s supposed to be a Black Friday deal?” asked David Mersier of Detroit, who waited in line for more than hour. “I should get a raincheck or something.”

Tasha Bradley of Troy was on the lookout Friday at the Best Buy in Madison Heights for a flat-screen TV and a laptop.

“It’s been crazy in the past, madness,” said Bradley. “This was more organized.”

Michelle Rodriguez, manager of the Best Buy, said the line was longer on Thanksgiving when it stretched all the way to John R. About 450 people were waiting to get in when it opened at 5 p.m.

To keep things orderly, Best Buy allowed customers 25-50 people at a time when its doors opened on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Customers were handed circulars as they walked in.

“We try to keep it as calm as possible,” said Amanda Reeser, another Best Buy manager. “...We need to put safety first.”

Some stores beefed up security for Black Friday. Security cars circled both Kohl’s in Troy and Best Buy in Madison Heights. In Dearborn, several Dearborn Police Department cars patrolled the Walmart parking lot where activist were protesting the retailer’s low wages.

Some retailers, such as outdoor goods chain REI, meanwhile, chose to keep their doors closed not only on Thanksgiving but on Black Friday, encouraging their employees to spend the day outside instead.

“We’re not here,” its website read Friday in big bold letters. “Today we’ve closed all 143 of our stores. We’re passionate about bringing you great gear and the experience it unlocks. We hope you’ll join us outside today.”

For many shoppers, Black Friday is a long-held family tradition. Jett of Warren says she and her daughters, Madison and Mackenzie Parise, have been heading out on Black Friday every year for a decade. They started at 3 a.m. Friday and their first stop was Dunham’s Sports.

It’s a methodical affair. They look at the circulars the night before and plot strategy. Jett opened a notebook with a list of the all the stores they planned to visit and specific items they wanted at each place.

“You have to have a list,” she said.

Still, she said she refused to shop on Thanksgiving.

“We won’t do Thanksgiving,” Jett said. “Three a.m. is as early as we’ll go. These people (workers) want to spend time with their families.”

For Jody Lewis and Debbie Hurst, sisters-in-law from Windsor, Black Friday is a 17-year tradition. They also said crowds weren’t nearly as big as years past — at stores or at the U.S.-Canadian border.

“There’s no crowd,” said Debbie, wearing a black shirt bedazzled with the words “Deck the Halls” while shopping at the Kohl’s in Troy. “In the past, we spent an hour in (the checkout) line.”

With the Canadian equivalent of Thanksgiving held in October, many Canadians come to Metro Detroit to shop on Black Friday, they said. At Walmart on Mercury Drive in Dearborn, a huge Canadian luxury passenger bus was parked in the parking lot while shoppers hunted for deals inside.

Lewis said the selection in Metro Detroit’s stores is so much more varied.

“The deals, the quantity, the selection is so much better,” said Lewis.

Lewis and Hurst said they missed the camaraderie of hanging out with other shoppers and waiting in line to get into stores on Black Friday in the past. Still, they said the day was about being together.

“It’s a tradition for us. And it’s time spent together. And there’s always a story.”

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