Though the shopping list might be shorter and the gifts more practical, Black Friday shoppers proved that the show will go on, even in a tanking economy.
At the Kohl's store in Roseville, shoppers showed up as early as 1 a.m., some watching DVDs while sitting in their cars. By opening time at 4 a.m., more than 400 people snaked around the store.
High school students Colin Marrin and Jeremiah Cornehl ate their Thanksgiving Day dinners at their neighborhood Best Buy in Apple Valley, ensuring they'd be near the front of the line when doors opened Friday, the traditional kickoff to retailers' crucial holiday shopping season.
Sales and traffic figures for the post-Thanksgiving shopping event won't be released for days, but an early reading shows that consumers are being more deliberate with their spending, and they're walking away if deals aren't good enough.
Many Twin Cities parking lots had cleared out by 9 a.m., and some shoppers were spotted walking away from stores empty-handed.
"I'm referring to them as hit-and-run shoppers," said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group, who spent Thursday and Friday surveying shoppers nationwide. "If it was available, they bought it. If it wasn't, they were gone."
Many merchants earn 25 to 40 percent of their annual sales in November and December, and the mood on Black Friday -- so named because it was the day retailers would first show a profit, or go "into the black," for the year -- tends to set the tone for the season. Analysts are predicting one of the slowest holiday seasons in decades, as recession-weary consumers worry about job losses, credit-card debt, and falling investments tied to the stock market.
Aware that consumers' wallets are being stretched thin, some Twin Cities retailers highlighted functional items rather than luxuries on Friday. At the Herberger's in Roseville, a stack of slow cookers on sale for $29.99 was displayed near the entrance.
Lori Cummings, 48, said she typically buys electronic gifts on Black Friday. But this year she stuck to more basic items, such as bath towels and a toothbrush holder for her son's bathroom.
"The job market isn't very good, so I'm just watching my money a bit more closely," said Cummings, an administrative assistant who lives in Eagan.
Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the market research firm NPD Group, said traffic among the "sports shoppers -- the folks who show up at 4 or 5 a.m." was down nearly a quarter, though numbers picked up at lunchtime. "There was still a crowd, but not quite the frenzy," he said.
Impulse purchases, which make up about a fourth of all purchases, will drop drastically this year, Cohen estimates, particularly because people won't be making those on-the-spot buys for themselves.
"They've got a list and they're sticking to it," he said.
At the Target store in Eagan, manager Derek Paton said the crowd that charged into the store at 6 a.m. was as strong as earlier years. Clothing aisles were all but empty, but crowds formed around the shelves of $3.98 DVDs. People filled their carts with two, three or even four of some of the deals: A Kodak camera at $89, an LCD TV for $299, and all things Wii.
Bill Dunleavy, a manager at the Sears at Brookdale in Brooklyn Center, said he was surprised by the turnout at his store and called in extra staff to meet the rush.
"We were expecting it to be much slower today, so this was a nice little jump start to the holiday season," he said. Sales of televisions were strong as people snapped up deals to get ready for the conversion to digital TV in February, Dunleavy said.
At the Mall of America in Bloomington, parking spots could easily be found about 9 a.m. Macy's clerks said they were busy, but not as busy as they had expected to be. Idle sales clerks at the just-opened Nike store were spotted looking out the window during a lull.
Children's shops at the megamall were jammed, however, particularly the Lego store and the new American Girl, which drew crowds despite a lack of discounts.
Twin Cities area police didn't report any major incidents related to Black Friday shopping, though Hennepin County reported a higher number of fender-benders and people who got locked out of their cars. But on New York's Long Island, a Wal-Mart worker was killed after shoppers eager for post-Thanksgiving bargains broke down the doors and trampled him.
Most of the heat in the metro area came from frustrated shoppers who waited in line only to find their hoped-for "doorbuster" deals had sold out within minutes.
At the Kohl's store in Roseville, more than half the store's GPS navigation systems were already gone by 4:20 a.m. So, too, were most of the store's Presto griddles, which were on sale for just $9.99.
Tara Slaughter, 19, of Cottage Grove, arrived at Kohl's at 3:55 a.m., but another shopper had already snatched up the last bottle of Giorgio Armani fragrance, which she planned to give her boyfriend for Christmas.
"I am waaaay mad," she said, as she walked to her car.
Staff writers Karen Lundegaard and Abby Simons contributed to this report. Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335 • email@example.com H.J. Cummins • 612-673-4671 • firstname.lastname@example.org Chris Serres • 612-673-4308 • email@example.com