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Malls see strong sales on Black Friday and predict strong season

Mild weather and shoppers with money to spend propelled strong performances at the region's stores on Black Friday, giving mall owners and merchants reason to believe that this holiday season will top last year's.

Karen Apollon, 48, of Fort Lee, N.J., and  Delores Robinson, 45, of Woolwich, N.J.,  shop at the King of Prussia Mall on Black Friday.
Karen Apollon, 48, of Fort Lee, N.J., and Delores Robinson, 45, of Woolwich, N.J., shop at the King of Prussia Mall on Black Friday.Read moreDavid Swanson / Staff Photographer

Mild weather and shoppers with money to spend propelled strong performances at the region's stores on Black Friday, giving mall owners and merchants reason to believe that this holiday season will top last year's.

Those who weren't buying at the malls and shopping centers were making purchases online, experts said - purchases that are a harbinger of what is expected to be a record year for total online sales, with smartphones likely playing a bigger role than ever.

The new 2,000-space parking deck at King of Prussia Mall was full by midafternoon Friday, mall general manager Robert Hart said; in fact, all 13,000 parking spots at the mall were taken.

The main attraction: a new luxury wing with mostly high-end brands and a new food pavilion, called Savor. The wing - part of a $250 million expansion that took two years to complete - connects what was formerly the Court and the Plaza. By mid-August, they were no more: It is simply one mall now.

"We are getting good feedback from a lot of merchants that they are getting good returns," Hart said on Black Friday, standing in front of COS, a new store in the luxury wing overlooking Savor. "It's been steady traffic all day as customers are coming in to see our new stores."

The curious included Woody Jiang, 22, of Center City, who sat at Savor at 4 p.m. to dig into a cheeseburger and fries from Shake Shack.

"I like it," said Jiang, who works in filmmaking. "They did a good job." At his feet were bags from Burberry and Lord & Taylor, the spoils of six hours of shopping.

A similar report came from Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) and its properties, including Cherry Hill, Moorestown, and Plymouth Meeting Malls.

"We're off to a good start and are pleased with the foot traffic at our centers," chief executive officer Joseph Coradino said just after 5:30 p.m. as he walked around Cherry Hill Mall. "From reports and my own observations, it looks like the retailers brought their A games this year."

Earlier Friday, PREIT spokeswoman Heather Crowell said she had seen a 15 percent jump in traffic at Moorestown and a 3 percent rise at Cherry Hill from last year's Black Friday. She said traffic also was strong at Willow Grove Park and Plymouth Meeting throughout the day.

The lots at the Oxford Valley and Neshaminy Malls in Bucks County - which were less than half full on Thanksgiving - were at capacity by noon Friday. A long line of cars could be seen on Route 1 North right before the Sesame Place/Oxford Valley Mall exit.

Black Friday, which serves as the official start of the holiday shopping season, is critical for retailers. The National Retail Federation (NRF) is projecting $655 billion in total sales in November and December, up 3.6 percent from 2015.

What was going on in the Philadelphia region mirrored the national outlook on Black Friday, said Charles O'Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody's.

"Thanksgiving store traffic was steady, with TVs the big sellers as usual, with Best Buy particularly involved, as always," O'Shea said. "The fact that retailers were offering the lion's share of their doorbusters online as well as in the stores indicates that they are becoming less concerned with where the sale gets made."

One question, he added, is whether the momentum will last: "How much in sales have the early promotions pulled forward?"

The NRF estimates that online sales will reach a record $117 billion this year, up from $105 billion in 2015.

While some malls were closed on Thanksgiving, others - including King of Prussia and Cherry Hill - expanded their hours, opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and staying open until midnight or 1 a.m. Friday, only to reopen again at 6 a.m. for a full-court Black Friday press until 10 p.m.

Several stores, including Macy's, JCPenney, and Target, pulled all-nighters, remaining open from Thanksgiving night until 10 p.m. Friday.

Walmart and Target reported their highest online sales ever for Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

"We had a record-breaking day on and traffic to our stores was strong," said Target CEO Brian Cornell, who greeted shoppers at the Jersey City, N.J., store on Thanksgiving.

"We expect this momentum to continue throughout the weekend and into next week as we offer Target's guests an opportunity to save 15 percent off nearly everything online and in our stores this Sunday and Monday."

Powering her way through the crowds, Shana Yeager, 36, of Levittown, hit Toys R Us and Target in Langhorne on Thanksgiving - only to return to Toys R Us on Black Friday.

On Thanksgiving, she scored what her husband wanted most: a 43-inch Element 4K Ultra HDTV that retailed for $299, but which, as a Black Friday deal, she got for $100 less.

Yeager, who owns a travel agency, made the shopping pilgrimage with best friend Jen Flannery, 36, for the fifth year in a row. "It was worth the trip, definitely," she said.

Added Flannery, whose cart was stuffed with toys for her three young children, including an electric scooter: "We had a nice Thanksgiving meal with our families, and now we're out here. Our families know we are trying to stretch our dollars."

Mild weather in the low 50s on Thanksgiving and Black Friday brought out scores of shoppers.

At Gloucester Premium Outlets in Blackwood, a long line snaked around the building that housed the Michael Kors store at 5:30 p.m. Thanksgiving - a half-hour before it opened.

The store was offering 50 percent off everything from handbags to watches, on top of an additional 20 percent off Black Friday deals. A sales associate had people file into the store a few at a time all night up to closing at 2 a.m. As people exited with their purchases, he would let a few more in.

"The men are all watching the [football] game, and we all went shopping," said food quality supervisor Dee Nardelli, 47, of Shiloh, N.J., around midnight Friday. "You can't beat the deals out here."

Nardelli had filled three large Michael Kors bags. Sister Tracy Joyce, 49, had two Kors bags, as did Nardelli's daughter, Brittany, 24, and her friends Lauren Rosenberger, 25, and Stephanie Kimble, 24.

The group joked that with all their bags, they might not all fit in their car and someone would have to walk home.

But their treasures were nothing compared with those of Veda Smith of Camden, who within a 48-hour span visited Kmart, Big Lots, Walgreens, Walmart, and Deptford Mall.

On Thanksgiving, she made the rounds with her car, but returned on Black Friday with a van to transport a pair of HDTVs - a 60-inch and a 40-inch - from the Walmart in Turnersville.

On Black Friday, Smith, 59, also bought a new king-size bed at Sleepy's, where she got several hundred dollars shaved off the price and, as a Black Friday special, will receive free setup and takeaway of her old bed.

"The deals were enormous, so I just shopped and shopped," said Smith, executive director of the Camden City Independent Living Center.

Smith said most of what she bought, she will donate to her clients, who are disabled.

"Anyone who knows me, they know this is what I do this time of year," she said. "I love it."

215-854-4184 @SuzParmley