Shopping Friday had a retro feel to it at West Towne Mall for Katie Wenger, Kelly Harms and Karen Elmer.
The trio carpooled from their Green County homes and arrived at about 2 a.m. to find bargains at Kohl’s and Target on Madison’s Far West Side. But shortly after 5 a.m. they were in line outside the food court entrance of the city’s largest mall.
Wenger and Harms, sisters from Monroe, and Elmer, their cousin from Brodhead, were the 14th, 15th and 16th in line and joined by 300 others all looking for door-buster deals. The mall was closed on Thanksgiving and didn’t open for Black Friday until 6 a.m., one of the mall’s latest openings in 10 years.
And that was OK for Elmer and her cousins, who had taken a break at about 6:45 a.m. to munch on pizza and Chinese food in the mall’s food court.
“I like the opening on Black Friday,” said Elmer, 34. “We used to always go for the opening of Kohl’s and the opening of Target but we wouldn’t cut our Thanksgiving short with family. So being able to come here at 6 a.m. today was kind of a nice perk.”
CBL & Associates Properties, owner of West Towne and East Towne malls in Madison, Janesville Mall and Brookfield Square, announced in October that it would follow the lead of the Mall of America and be closed on Thanksgiving. In 2015 and 2014, the CBL malls opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday in 2013 and at midnight on the night of Thanksgiving in 2012.
Megan Ballard, general manager of West Towne, said closing on Thanksgiving was in response to many retailers expressing concerns about staffing issues and from shoppers who disliked the mall cutting into the holiday. At least one-third of the mall’s business occurs between Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Ballard, who was on hand Friday morning to hand out gift cards and coupons to the first 100 people in line.
“Our company had found that when we’re open on Thanksgiving it didn’t necessarily increase sales volume for retailers, it just spread it out over a longer period of time and increased their operating costs,” Ballard said. “We’re optimistic that this event has brought excitement back to Black Friday.”
Other major retailers that took Thanksgiving off included Hilldale Shopping Center, Greenway Station in Middleton, The Shoppes at Prairie Lakes in Sun Prairie and Farm & Fleet with stores on Stoughton Road and in Verona.
Eau Claire-based Menard’s was also closed on Thanksgiving and opened Friday morning to huge crowds. About 90 minutes after the 6 a.m. opening, all 12 of the checkout counters at its Far West Side store had more than 10 people in line, and the customer service desk was also ringing up customers. The big sellers included dog beds, kayaks and cordless drills.
Back at West Towne, foot traffic in the 828,602-square-foot shopping center gradually gained steam throughout the day with big crowds at stores like Pink, a clothing store for teen girls and young women; American Eagle and Bath & Body Works, where it was buy three items to get three free.
Amy Boebel left her home in Fennimore with four other family members at 2:45 a.m. and hit Kohl’s and then Dick’s Sporting Goods before venturing into the mall to buy at Apricot Lane, Bare Minerals and Sephora. They later planned to hit Target and Old Navy on Junction Road.
“We’re only like two and half hours in so we’ve had awesome luck so far,” Boebel said. “It’s tradition. We get coffee, listen to Christmas music and shop.”
Black Business Expo
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But while the shopping malls and big box stores received much of the traffic on Friday, a new event, designed to promote black-owned businesses, drew a solid crowd in the atrium at The Village on Park, 2300 S. Park St.
The Black Business Expo Black Friday Edition had 60 vendors and solid attendance. Items being sold included skin care products, jewelry, cookies, salsa, clothing, gift baskets and art work. The event was the brainchild of Sabrina Madison, a motivational speaker and entrepreneur who wanted to bring more exposure to black-owned businesses and encourage entrepreneurial ideas in black communities throughout the Madison area.
“What I love about this is that these are things they’ve been doing on the side to make extra income and they never thought about their business having that sort of potential,” said Madison, 38, who grew up in Milwaukee and would like to see some of the vendors eventually graduate into their own storefronts. “In Madison, we have our issues and we have our growing pains but what I appreciate about the community is that if you create the space, they’ll show up and support it.”
Linda Mathis-Rose has been selling her paintings for decades and is a former longtime art teacher at Hamilton Middle School. She’s hopeful that the expo will help young people realize that entrepreneurship can be a viable option.
“It’s very meaningful for them to see us doing varying things around the community and opening businesses,” Mathis-Rose said. “Children fear starting things and if they don’t see anybody doing it, they’re not going to do it.”
The focus on small businesses will continue on Saturday with Small Business Saturday, a national event that promotes small businesses and includes scores of Madison area retailers and special promotions.
“This period from Thanksgiving to the end of the year is critical for small retailers,” said Bill Smith, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business that has 12,000 members in the state. “It’s a real battle for them to stay in business and prosper.”
While the city’s three malls were closed on Thanksgiving, the anchor stores and outlying big box retailers drew thousands of shoppers looking for deals hours before the arrival of Black Friday.
Brandon Eichelkraut, 43, of Belleville, was after socks, slippers and pillows for his wife at Sears and a $40 tool box for himself. With just 20 minutes before the 6 p.m. opening of the doors, Eichelkraut was the only person waiting outside while a few others were nearby in their cars.
“A lot of people think Thanksgiving is time for family and friends and think all businesses should be closed today,” said Eichelkraut, who snared a $100 comforter for $20 at Shopko an hour earlier. “But there’s always the hardcore shopper that wants to get the good deal on Thursday.”
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, 59 percent of Americans — an estimated 137.4 million people — were planning to or considering shopping from Thanksgiving through Sunday. It includes both in-store and online shopping and is up from 58.7 percent or 135.8 million people in 2015. One study, released Friday by Adobe Systems, revealed that online sales totaled $1.15 billion on Thanksgiving, a 13.6 percent increase over 2015. Adobe analyzed data from 21 billion visits to retail websites.
“Black Friday remains one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with Americans planning to take advantage of aggressive in-store and digital promotions over the entire holiday weekend,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF. “While there’s no doubt of the incredible promotions offered during the weekend, the holiday shopping season is long and consumers will look for and expect great deals down to the very last minute.”