If the shopping crowds on Black Friday — plus the brave souls who lined up in the cold waiting for stores to open Thanksgiving evening — are a hint of what the rest of the holiday season will look like, it will be a very Merry Christmas indeed for the Philadelphia region's brick-and-mortar merchants.
"I can imagine that the retailers did well, because these were the longest lines I've ever seen," said Kristine Lisi, 50, of West Chester, who made the trek to King of Prussia at 6 a.m. Friday with daughter Kaitlin. They spent the next four hours shopping from one end of the mall to the other, hitting every teen apparel retailer along the way. "The line at Urban Outfitters was just crazy. I have never seen a line so long," she said.
Another would-be savior for this struggling sector, Cindi Chea, 46, of Washington Township, hit all the big department stores at Deptford Mall on Thanksgiving: JCPenney, Boscov's, Macy's, Sears. Target, and the Disney Store, too. She scored a rice cooker (the Penneys floor model, the last one, at $7.99), fuzzy socks, clothing, a blender, a double toaster oven, and two dozen bottles of shampoo marked half-off each at $8.
Though Friday found Chea back at work at her package-shipping business, she planned to venture out to Cherry Hill Mall at 6 p.m. for a visit to the Apple Store. Her daughter needed a new iPhone, and they were $70 off — just for Black Friday.
"I love Black Thursday shopping because I work on Black Friday," she said jokingly as she prepared for her second whirl at the malls. "But I love shopping in general and getting the best deals."
"This is what it's all about," said Eileen Sperling, 55, of Levittown, as she and her two daughters and a sister walked out of Kohl's in Langhorne with bags in each hand at 3 a.m. Friday. Sperling had a pillow in each arm, and also held a comforter.
For this group, Black Friday had begun at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. They shopped for six hours straight at Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, and Kohl's, and did one unloading of their Kia Sportage between stores before "breakfast" at a Chick-fil-A. They wanted to squeeze maybe a nap in before heading back out at 6 a.m. to Lowe's.
Retail analysts predicted the best Black Friday in more than a decade because of high consumer confidence, low unemployment, and relatively low gas prices. Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) and Simon Property Group, owners of the region's major shopping malls, reported all parking decks and surface lots were filled by afternoon at King of Prussia, Cherry Hill, and Willow Grove Park.
"Crowds have been pretty solid at the stores I have visited beginning 5 p.m. yesterday until around 5 p.m. today," Moody's senior retail analyst Charles O'Shea said Friday evening. "TVs continue to be the hot item, and it looks like brick-and-mortar retailers are leveraging store locations to augment online. It's a marathon, though it looks like the first few miles are going pretty well."
That stellar shopping forecast echoed Friday morning's prognostication by BMO Financial Group, whose annual holiday-retail report predicted strength buoyed by e-commerce growing at a steady annual rate of about 15 percent.
Adobe Analytics, which tracks big shopping events, reported that an estimated $1.52 billion had been spent online nationwide by 5 p.m. Thursday, a 16.8 percent growth year over year.
The lines outside the region's stores on Thanksgiving alone gave every indication that the experts' projections would be on the money.
From Bucks County to South Philadelphia to Blackwood, the foot and vehicular traffic was robust at big-box retailers such as Target, Best Buy, and Walmart. These chains — known for their monster deals on big-ticket electronics during Black Friday weekend — couldn't sell the 50- and 55-inch LED TVs fast enough.
This year, Target offered a special sale for REDcard holders, giving them early access to more than 100 Black Friday deals after its stores opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. But the store on Mifflin Street in South Philadelphia ran out of raffle tickets for the giant LEDs a good half-hour before the doors opened.
At midnight at the Gloucester Premium Outlets, parking was hard to find, and the two-year-old mall in Blackwood was packed until it closed at 2 a.m. Friday. John Curry, 45, and wife JoAnn, 43, waited in line for two hours at the Michael Kors store to buy handbags marked 60 percent off with an additional 20 percent off. They spent an hour inside Under Armour for sports apparel marked 50 percent off.
"This is my first time doing this," said John Curry, an industrial mechanic from Laurel Springs. "I wanted to see what [Black Friday] was all about, and I am really having a good time." They planned to head to Moorestown Mall later Friday to shop for their 14-year old son, Aaron.
Taking a different route were Patrice Reed, 47, her cousins Jamillah Slocum, 40, and Tamara Lively, 36, and her niece Sydney Slocum, 15. The four braved the chill and by 9 p.m. Wednesday had pitched a tent outside the Best Buy in Deptford. Reed had on a snowsuit, as well as "bundles of clothes on and sleeping bags," she said. The group packed up their tent at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving and sat on lawn chairs, waiting for Best Buy's 5 p.m. opening.
They made out like bandits. Among Reed's haul: three computers; one iPad mini, a regular iPad, a MacBook Air, and two sound bars and two Fire sticks to make the pair of 50-inch LED TVs she bought sound clearer.
"Everything was 60 to 70 percent off," Reed said. "It was worth it and a lot of fun. I'll have my tent ready to go again next year."
On Friday, Reed said, she was heading to Atlantic City at 10 a.m. for a day trip that would include some shopping at Tanger Outlets-the Walk. "But mostly," she said, "to gamble with the money I saved."