Mary Migala and Amanda Kessler had been at it for more than 13 hours but there was still much to do.
Migala, 51, of Necedah, was on a quest to complete Christmas shopping for her 11 grandchildren. Amanda Kessler, 33, of Reedsburg, had the same mindset for her two children.
The mother-daughter duo was lined up at the food court entrance of West Towne Mall Friday waiting for the doors to open at 6 a.m. But by that time, they had already hit the Walmart in Baraboo, Toys ’R Us and Kohl’s at West Towne and finished a 1 a.m. meal at Denny’s after waiting 30 minutes for a table. Their plan for the mall included stops at Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Hot Topic with a final stop at Barnes & Noble, west of the mall.
“And then we wrap them when we get home and it’s all done,” said Migala, who has been doing early morning shopping with her daughter for seven years. “Trust me, there’s no makeup by the end of the morning because we’ve laughed it off.”
Black Friday may have lost some of the luster of years past when stores were closed on Thanksgiving Day but the mega shopping day continues to be a big event for shoppers and retailers. An estimated 69 percent of Americans plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, with spending for the holiday season predicted to increase by as much as 4 percent to $682 billion.
West Towne, which draws 14 million shoppers a year, opened on Black Friday instead of Thanksgiving Day for the second straight year. Music echoed through the mall from a DJ, a selfie booth was set up and prizes for shoppers were planned throughout the day.
“We’ve done a lot to try and bring back the magic of Black Friday,” said Megan Ballard, the mall’s general manager. “Traffic- and volume-wise, we found that opening on Thanksgiving didn’t really impact sales in a positive manner. We were just spreading the sales over a longer period of time. We probably will see more people today.”
Ballard expected crowds to grow throughout the day but by 6:30 a.m., Pink, a clothing store for teens and young adults, was crammed with shoppers. A line snaked through the store, where sweatshirts were on sale for $30, V-neck T-shirts for $10 and bras for $25.
Alice Bertelrud, of New Glarus, stood outside the store with three large shopping bags while her daughter and niece shopped inside. They left New Glarus at about 4:45 a.m. but on Thanksgiving Day were at Walmart and Shopko in Monroe. Bertelrud has been joining the Black Friday crowds for more than 20 years. She also planned to stop at Menard’s, Target and at the Mattel store in Middleton for American Girl items and said her savings could top $250.
“I don’t mind it,” Bertelrud said of the early morning and Thanksgiving Day shopping. “People are very nice.”
The mall is home to major anchor stores such as Boston Store and JC Penney but also features about 30 kiosks selling candy, cell phone cases, games, calendars, toys and jewelry. Pedro Ruiz, of Sun Prairie, has been selling stainless steel jewelry with his wife out of their home and at house parties for the past 18 months. This year marked the first time they have rented kiosks for the holiday season for their Elisa Jewelry business at both West Towne and East Towne malls. Mall business from October to February could account for 40 to 50 percent of their annual sales.
“We hope this kicks it up to a new level,” Ruiz said. “We saw the market and we think the market is there for it, especially at the prices we have.”
By noon, temperatures in the Madison area approached 60 degrees, which made the logistics of the day easier. The morning rush had also subsided and created a relatively relaxed experience for Karen Barman of Black Earth. Her first stop was at Farm & Fleet where her deals included 99-cent gallons of windshield-washer fluid, a snow shovel and bags of nuts.
“Even the traffic is lighter,” Barman, 53, said of shopping later in the day. “I don’t go early and I get what I want anyway.”
In Middleton, parking was at a premium at Greenway Station. Most stores at the outdoor lifestyle mall avoided the early morning hours, which was just fine with Becky Duffy, 54, of Waunakee, who was shopping with her mother.
“My mom lives in Minocqua so when she’s down this is like retail therapy,” said Duffy, who was shopping at Lang’s, a calendar and gift store. “There’s been lots of lines but everybody has been really happy.”
Thanksgiving Day shoppers were met with temperatures near 40 degrees and, later, a waxing crescent moon.
At the Kohl’s store at West Towne, an estimated 1,000 people were either in line or waiting in their cars when the store opened at 5 p.m. Thursday, an hour earlier than last year’s opening, said Todd Pralle, the store’s manager for the past 14 years. Many shoppers were after electronics such as a $189 Xbox, $199 Sony PlayStation and a 55-inch, 4K ultra HDTV television for $300.
Pralle had about 120 employees in the store Thursday night, but a tight labor market with a low unemployment rate has not made holiday hiring easy for most retailers in Madison. Pralle said he could use another 30 employees, which is why a banner hung on the building’s exterior and yard signs dotted the landscaping advertising that the store was hiring.
“It’s a little bit tougher than normal but we’ll make it,” Pralle said. “The people we have, they’ll work some hours and some overtime but it would be nice if we could add a few more. Some people want to be seasonal for the holidays but those who want to stay on part-time, we’ve never had a situation where we can’t keep them on.”
Toys ’R Us opened at 5 p.m. Thursday with between 150 and 200 people in line looking for half-priced Nerf guns and board games like Chutes & Ladders and Candy Land for $5. The store stayed open all night and was scheduled to close Friday at 11 p.m. said Jeff Poteete, who is in his seventh Christmas season at the store.
“It really helps spread it out so it’s not as stressful on the store,” Poteete said of the extended hours. “You don’t have that big rush all at one time. So I think it’s worth it. It’s easier on the store and easier on the staff.”