When Black Friday came, shoppers hit the malls - or simply went back

Black Friday shoppers squeeze through a passageway at the King of Prussia mall. Some shoppers complained that sales were not as good as in the past, but turnout was high.
Black Friday shoppers squeeze through a passageway at the King of Prussia mall. Some shoppers complained that sales were not as good as in the past, but turnout was high. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 01, 2013

Had it not been for the multiple bags in each woman's hands, it would have been easy to believe Judy Dunn as she and her sisters griped, during a pause inside the King of Prussia mall, that Black Friday had lost its appeal as the Day of the Deals.

"They're killing Black Friday, the retailers," said Dunn, a 55-year-old elementary school principal from Broomall, wagging a cookie in her hand before taking a bite. "The sales weren't there like they used to be."

"Black Friday is not the same," interjected Marijo Gannon, 43, of Broomall.

"At Macy's," added the third of the Musketeer shopper sisters, 51-year-old Maria Coan of Glen Mills, "every time you tried to use a coupon, they're not eligible. You need a lawyer to decipher Macy's coupons."

And yet, despite strategic sales tactics cited as annoyances by bargain-hunters, consumers appeared to have turned out in big numbers to pounce on a holiday shopping season shortened by almost a week compared with last year, thanks to a late Thanksgiving.

Shoppers were out in force Friday, and even in hordes Thursday night, as many retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving for the first time. With Black Friday crowds notably thinner in recent years, the lively scenes over the last two days suggested that the calendar squeeze was giving renewed urgency to the notion of a marathon shopping weekend.

"People see Sunday [is] Dec. 1 on their calendar, and it really kicks them into gear," said Lisa Wolstromer, Cherry Hill Mall's senior marketing director. "They realize it's just around the corner."

Cherry Hill Mall, like King of Prussia and others, followed the cues of major retailers such as Macy's and J.C. Penney Co. by opening for the first time on Thanksgiving, at 8 p.m., compared with midnight the year before.

Though it will take several months to know how well such overtures pumped up the receipts, the night-and-day stacking of sales seemed to draw ample crowds, including multiple visits from some, such as Francisco Arroyo, 39, a Camden cabdriver.

Arroyo and his wife shopped at Cherry Hill Mall from 8 p.m. Thursday to 3 a.m., then returned at 8 a.m. Friday. But on Round Two, Arroyo was so worn out that he took a seat along the mall concourse to watch The Godfather on his phone.

"The crowds last night were terrible," Arroyo said, relaxing on an armchair as his wife continued to shop.

At Deptford Mall, one shopper who was more in the mix was disappointed by what he had - or had not - found. Sales, it seemed, were less generous.

"They seem almost 50 percent lower than last year," said Manoj Purushothaman, seated at a table with his son Madhav, 11. "They're harder to come by this year than last."

The Delaware County sisters at King of Prussia echoed that refrain, based also on what they saw the night before on Thanksgiving.

Between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. on the holiday, the threesome stuffed stacks of newspaper circulars into shopping bags and hit Kohl's, Walmart, Target, and Springfield Mall.

Kohl's provoked grief by advertising a good sale on a TV, Gannon explained, but not necessarily allowing all walk-ins like her to walk out with it.

"If you didn't get there at 8 o'clock in the morning to get a slip," Gannon said, "you didn't get a TV."

Dunn expressed similar disgust about limited-time offers on some highly coveted products at the Walmart in Marple that night.

"In Walmart," Dunn said, "it was an hour-long sale. Who shops in an hour?"

Yet a sale is a sale. And even against the clock, King of Prussia shopper Erica Cedar made haste.

"We hit all the anchor stores before 1 o'clock because they have the best deals," said Cedar, 37, who, with her mother, had bought so much by about 11 a.m. that they had made three trips back to their car. (Cedar had a good dozen bags from Macy's and Penneys hanging from an empty baby stroller - and was nowhere near done.)

On a less festive note, the early-morning scene at four Philadelphia-area Walmarts involved demonstrators shining a light on what they called inadequate wages for workers at the global retailing giant.

Simultaneously at 8 a.m., an estimated 150 members of local labor unions and advocacy groups gathered at Walmarts in Philadelphia on Columbus Boulevard, Adams Avenue, and Aramingo Avenue, and in Exton, Chester County, said Bill Epstein, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, a local force behind the nationwide action.

Organizers staged 1,500 similar demonstrations nationwide.

Epstein said a goal was to raise awareness about the discount retailer, which as recently as a few weeks ago made headlines for, in at least one store, allegedly urging store associates to donate to help coworkers who could not afford holiday food.

"If that doesn't define that this company pays inadequate wages," Epstein said, "I don't know what does."

The corporation responded to requests for comment by disseminating a statement from spokesman David Tovar, vice president of corporate communications.

"Black Friday is a big stage, and we're one of the biggest players in the retail industry," Tovar said. "We're not surprised that those trying to change our industry are using this platform to get their message out, and we respect their right to be heard."


mpanaritis@phillynews.com

215-854-2431 @Panaritism

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