Metro Detroit pulls crowd for Black Friday deals

Ian Thibodeau, and Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Malls were busy and shoppers were bustling, but the kickoff to the annual holiday shopping season was otherwise calm as Black Friday becomes a less frenzied affair in Metro Detroit.

For Howard Hill, 66 — and his sons John, 40, Danny, 34, and Nick, 36 — it was smooth sailing at the Somerset Collection at around 8:30 a.m. After just a half hour of shopping, the quartet had already hit three stores.

They’re experienced, though. Howard took John on his first Black Friday excursion 37 years ago.

“So far, so good,” Howard said as the men were about to enter another store.

It was slower at the mall this year, Howard Hill said, but John, Danny and Nick weren’t complaining when asked if they preferred a busier shopping experience.

“No, it’s enjoyable like this,” Danny said.

Somerset would be their only stop Friday. After the mall, they planned to get breakfast, as tradition requires.

“This was the only day I could shop when I was working,” Howard said. That’s how it all started.

For the holiday shopping season 2016, the National Retail Federation estimated that 137.4 million Americans planned to shop during the Thanksgiving weekend. The federation expects holiday sales will increase 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion, compared to last year’s 4.1 percent growth. Likewise, the Michigan Retailers Association forecast sales this holiday season will rise 2.1 percent compared with last year.

Consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season, which includes gifts, food, flowers, decorations and greeting cards for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. According to federation estimates, total holiday spending this year will be the best since the 2015 season set a record, with average spending of $952.58 per shopper.

In Novi, smells of Japanese cherry blossom and vanilla bean filled the air inside Bath & Body Works at Twelve Oaks Mall, where women stuffed their bags with lotions, soaps and candles.

For most of them, the “buy three get three free” deal caught their eye as they walked through a busy mall.

“It’s been fun,” said Kate Mitchell of Northville, as her daughters and their friend picked out their favorite scents. “We haven’t had a lot of waits today.”

The line at Bath & Body Works stretched through the middle of the store just before 8 a.m.

Manager Stephanie Kopp kept customers entertained with a technique she called “line busting.” Kopp said this meant making sure they qualified for the sale and offering to spray “shimmer” on them as they waited.

“It gets even more intense in a couple hours,” Kopp said of the Black Friday crowd.

The same could be said for Somerset. Until about an hour after opening, it seemed like a normal holiday crowd had descended on the mall. By 9:30 a.m., hopeful shoppers in cars and SUVs circled the parking lot almost constantly in search of a parking spot.

Nathan Forbes, owner of the Somerset Collection, said the Black Friday crowd peaks around noon at his mall.

“Somerset is a little different of an animal,” Forbes said. “We have a regional draw ... Somerset shoppers come for the day ... they spend a lot more time here.”

As for Black Friday sales, the day itself is a lot less prominent than it used to be, Forbes said. The entire weekend after Thanksgiving acts as more of an indicator for the holiday season.

“Now that we’ve gotten through the hangover for the elections, I think you will see an increase of shopping dollars over next year,” Forbes said, which is exactly what retail analysts predicted earlier this week.

Detroit resident Robert Rios, 18, and Aaliyah Hall, 16, of West Bloomfield Township, got into Somerset early, though. Just after 8 a.m., they were already carrying a couple of bags.

Rios said the stores where he hoped to get a deal didn’t have much to offer, but there were still bargains at the mall.

The Apple Store had “no good deals,” Rios said. He’d hoped to pick up a set of Beats headphones or Apple AirPods. Instead, he and Hall did some shopping for one another at Victoria’s Secret and True Religion.

“We’re trying to secretly shop for each other,” Rios said.

Meanwhile, a family of six left their Midland, Michigan, home at 4:30 a.m. to get to Somerset early.

Kim Marden, 56, and her 23-year-old daughter, Zoe, split up from their family members to meander the north end of Somerset.

Both the deals and the crowd were better this year compared to a year ago, Kim said.

“It’s much busier this year,” she said. Zoe agreed. Doorbuster deals at Anthropologie were more worth waking up for.

“We don’t have this in Midland,” Kim said when asked why she and the family make such a long trip. “The quality of the stores here is wonderful.”

Back at Twelve Oaks, sisters-in-law Joanne O’Connor and Gibby Dawson traveled from Essex, just outside Windsor, with their husbands to catch Black Friday deals.

O’Connor had Christmas lists from her two kids to fulfill and was standing in line at Alex and Ani where there was a 20 percent off deal.

The two women say they usually turn Black Friday shopping into a weekend trip where they stop at other stores in the area.

Meanwhile, their husbands relaxed in a nearby seating area.

“We love it here,” O’Connor said of the mall. “All the stores that we need are here.”

Renee Townsend, of Chelsea, said she and her sister started their morning with finding good deals at Macy’s in the mall.

Some departments had been picked over, Townsend said, but she got lucky with clothing items. She planned to stay at Twelve Oaks all day and have lunch and dinner between shopping.

“It’s fairly crowded this year, actually,” Townsend said.

“I’m mostly Christmas shopping, but I may have accidentally bought myself some makeup,” she said with a chuckle.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Twitter: @NicquelTerry