At shopping centers across the Twin Cities, consumers seemed ready to forget the weight of job worries, even if just for a day, and splurge a little. But they remained determined to avoid new debt, and -- in Friday's frigid winds -- they just wanted to stay warm.
Coach claimed the prize for the longest line at Albertville Premium Outlets.
By 11 p.m., nearly 200 people had lined up outside the Coach store, which didn't open until midnight, one of the few stores at the center to open so late. Four years ago the center, halfway between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, began its Midnight Madness promotion, which last year allowed 10 p.m. openings for stores that wanted to start earlier. About half did. This year three-fourths of them opened at 10 p.m.
Two women from Winnipeg were first in line at Coach, which was offering $129 bags with logos, $49 wristlets and $189 leather purses. They drove eight hours for the Black Friday sales because of the favorable exchange rate and the fact that Canada's major sale day, Boxing Day, is after Christmas. With her eye on bags toward the back of the store, Michelle Medina had plenty of time to plan her shopping strategy.
"Run to the back of the store and grab what we can," Medina said.
Kim Guck and her entourage of six, ranging in age from 13 to 49, had been staking out their second-place spot in front of Coach, but Guck, of Pelican Rapids, took refuge next door in the Nike Factory Store, which mercifully let freezing shoppers in a little early.
"We've never been here before -- we're insane!" said Guck, who was bundled in three tops and two pairs of pants. She returned the hospitality to Nike, buying her daughter a sweat suit.
About 11:15 p.m., a Coach worker handed out coupons for an extra 20 percent off. Guck bought a pink and silver sparkly satchel with a signature logo print (regularly $360; she paid $150) and a key chain lanyard for her daughter.
"I probably wouldn't stand in line at Coach for five hours again," she said, though she would come a few hours early to get into line. "They had so much of everything in the back, I wouldn't worry about getting a particular item."
'One big family'
Jim Gienger arrived first at the Roseville SuperTarget, at around 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. But he stayed in his car getting warm until Sherri Sweep and her son Spencer Brelje arrived at 8:45, claiming the first place in line. That motivated Gienger and his nephew Bobby into the cold.
Kelli and Ben Bierwerth, both 22, huddled close behind. The three pairs had never met before last night, but after nearly eight hours in line, "We feel like one big family now," Gienger joked. Sweep's husband brought over a portable heater, and revelers took turns taking hot cocoa runs to Perkins and to White Castle for sliders.
The "Target Team Family," as they dubbed themselves, all came for a $298, 40-inch Westinghouse HDTV, which normally retails for around $500.
"I want this TV for the Super Bowl," said Gienger.
The Bierwerth family was buying two TVs -- one for the couple and one for her parents, who watched their toddler in exchange for their below-freezing sleepover.
Sweep, 45, is also buying the TV for herself. But she's doing most of her shopping online this year.
"Normally I hit six stores before I head home; this year, this was the only thing that was tempting enough for me," she said.
As the clock approached 4 a.m., a security guard chanted, "Please walk, don't run. Please walk, don't run." Then, the door opened, as customers cheered and Target employees were ready with shopping carts. By about 4:20 a.m., the door-buster TVs were gone.
But the Bierwerths triumphed, and were headed home with a couple of DVDs to watch on their new TV today.
Asked if it was worth it, Ben said it wasn't.
"I can't feel my toes," he said.
But Kelli said they'd be back again. "Over the full year you forget about it, so you do it again."
Malls tried to lure shoppers with some of their own Black Friday deals, including sweepstakes giveaways. Eden Prairie Center gave early shoppers a $10 gift card if they spent $100 at the mall.
But Mall of America is a tough competitor in that regard. For the third year in a row, for every $250 spent at the mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, it's offering two unlimited ride wristbands at its Nickelodeon Universe theme park. In 2008, it issued 17,339 wristbands, worth $520,000. Last year that tripled to 52,526 wristbands, worth nearly $1.6 million.
On Black Friday the line to get the passes started in the morning and was steady throughout the day, with a dozen or so people waiting. Mall spokesman Dan Jasper noted that when he stopped by a little after 2 p.m., one woman had just gotten 26 passes, spending at least $3,250 at the mall.
Is Jasper worried it might grow too popular? Not at all, he said, noting that the wristbands have to be redeemed by the end of February and the first two months of the year are generally pretty slow at the mall and the amusement park. "It's a good way to get a repeat shopper out of some of our guests," he said.
Foiled by height
At Maple Grove's Wal-Mart, the deals started right after midnight Friday, as shoppers rushed to grab plastic-wrapped bundles of DVDs for between $1.96 and $10. In the crush, shoppers shouted out the names of each DVD as it was revealed, which included movies such as "The Wizard of Oz" for $5 and "The Lord of the Rings" for $1.96.
Siblings Dan and Katherine Rogge of Rogers staked out opposite sides of the aisle.
"Be careful," Katherine advised when the free-for-all began. A student at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Rogge was in town for Thanksgiving, and finding DVDs was an annual tradition.
After most of the DVDs were scooped up in a chaotic 15 minutes, the siblings met up to sort through the videos they had grabbed. Katherine scored "Sex and the City 2," but missed out on the HBO series "True Blood."
"I lost my copy because I wasn't tall enough," she said.
The two then moved on to Target, which opened at 4 a.m., to do the same thing.
Early birds get a meal
Donna Goldstein and her daughter Sarah Johnson didn't score a TV at a hot price, but they did get a free breakfast.
They did a little shopping, then met Goldstein's sister, Barb Pfaender, at the Highland Grill, one of the four Blue Plate Restaurant Co. locations that gave away breakfasts starting at 4 a.m. for the first 100 customers. This was the second year Blue Plate gave away breakfast burritos, homemade quiches and French toast that typically cost around $9.
"Kicking off the holiday season, we wanted to do something for our guests ... and get some new faces in here that maybe have not tried us before and show them what we're all about," said Tim Walker, general manager at the Highland Grill.
Last year, the restaurant was slammed with a line out the door. This year, it changed the promotion from free breakfast for the first hour to free breakfast for the first 100 diners. The restaurant opened at 4 a.m., but when the promotion ended at 7 a.m., seven free meals remained unclaimed.
During breakfast, Goldstein and Johnson planned the rest of their shopping day. Goldstein said it's fun to holiday shop, but this year, she's not buying much.
Her husband lost his manufacturing job 18 months ago. She told her 20-year-old son, who is in college, not to expect much again this year.
"You said that last year," Goldstein recalls him saying. "Last year, I thought my husband would get a job by this time," she said.