NOTE: Star Tribune staff writers have been out on the front lines of door-buster holiday sales since late Thursday night. Here are their dispatches.

Mall of America expects to break Black Friday record

The first traffic numbers are in. Mall of America said its midnight opening drew 15,000 shoppers. By 10 a.m., the mall attracted 81,000 people. Based on those figures, MOA expects to break its previous Black Friday record of 200,000 visitors set last year.

--Thomas Lee

Deal-a-Day sites join the Black Friday wallet grab

Daily deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social have taken off as ways to save money on everything from gun safety classes to gourmet meals. But will they become common holiday gifts as well?

Last year was the first time that I gave daily deals as gifts and the response was positive. Then again, when do gift receivers provide an honest assessment of the Snuggie they just unwrapped?

According to daily deal site Living Social, a survey of 3500 Americans found nearly one-third think they'll receive a daily deal as a gift this year. But 45 percent say it's not likely or unlikely that they'll find a slip of paper in their stocking.

The daily deal sites have certainly joined in on the Black Friday money grab. Mom-focused Plum District is taking $10 off purchases with the code "enjoy10." I used it to get a certificate for $30 worth of wine at a local shop for just $5 out of pocket. LivingSocial is offering more than 20 national Black Friday deals such as a New York Times Sunday subscription for $78 and $10 for $20 at Office Max. And, like last year, Groupon is celebrating "Grouponicus" with deals such as $10 for $20 to spend at Old Navy.

--Kara McGuire

Staples extends "Early Bird" deals

Here's an interesting announcement. Staples Inc. said they would honor Early Bird deals on available merchandise throughout Friday and Saturday.

The retailer's Early Bird deals were initially valid from 6 a.m. to noon. Makes me wonder if Black Friday was a bust for the chain if they need to extend the offers for another 24 hours.

And we're not talking about pens and pencils. Staples Early Bird deals include HP laptops, Nook e-readers, Acer tablets, and LCD monitors.

--Thomas Lee

So far, stil operational

Despite rumors of outages, seems to running fine. One of our reporters just bought something on the website and didn't find any problems.

Target's Twitter feed suggests at least some customers are still experiencing trouble with

We'll check again later today.

--Thomas Lee

Mall of America falling back to earth

Kind of weird to see that many people at the Mall of America around 7 a.m. Still, traffic was considerably down from midnight, when the mall opened its door.

Still saw lots of teenagers and college students moving about. No one seemed to be buying boat loads of stuff but rather one or two bags.

There were plenty of people just sleeping on mall chairs and couches. I wonder if they're just tired or pacing themselves for another round of shopping. My bet is on the former.

--Thomas Lee

Target door busters still floating around

Target spokeswoman Laura Conlon says the downtown Minneapolis store still carried door busters, including televisions and toys, for the second wave of Black Friday shoppers arriving between 6 and 8 a.m. That"s a little surprising since door busters have traditionally sold out in the first few minutes of a store's Black Friday opening, which, in this case, was midnight.

Conlon, though, says the number of door busters varies store by store, depending on traffic.

Overall, the midnight Target openings attracted, on average, 1,500 people with one store in Los Angeles drawing about 6,000 people, Conlon asid.

She said consumers were not just buying door busters and leaving but also walking through the entire store. That's good news for Target if the retailer hopes to generate some semblance of a profit margin.

--Thomas Lee

"I'm definitely not going in there."

At Ridgedale Friday at about 7:30 a.m., Danny Tyo stood outside the Victoria's Secret store, his hoodie hood pulled loosely over his head.

Frankly, he looked like he could use a shot of espresso, or a Red Bull. Maybe both. "My sister got me out of bed to come here," he said, while guarding a bag containing two pairs of shoes. (They belonged to his aforementioned sister, Jackie Felt.) "I'm definitely not going in there."

Inside the lingerie and undies store, Felt and maybe two dozen women of all shapes and sizes plucked at sales racks, including one offering up a panty bonanza: Five for $26. (One pair read BOY TOY.)

"I don't really mind," said Tyo, of Plymouth. His sister's husband is deployed in Afghanistan, and she's visiting from Germany, where she lives. "I saw it as a way to spend some time with her."

Felt emerged from the store empty-handed. She started at midnight, hitting the Albertville Premium Outlets, Target and then J.C. Penney before getting her brother up for the trip to Ridgedale.

Felt says she also shops online "because shopping in Germany isn't like here." But, she added, the experience of shopping with her brother was far better than clicking about on her computer.

-- Janet Moore

Pockets of activity at West End

As the sun rose Friday, the morning light gave The Shops at West End in St. Louis Park a kind of rosy hue, but only a few dedicated shoppers were traversing the main drag of the upscale shopping complex. Only two speciality stores — Anthropologie and Jos. A. Bank — opened in the wee hours.

But inside Anthropologie, a few dozen fashionistas, mostly in their '20s and '30s, plucked through the chic attire and home goods, loading up on the 50-percent markdowns (good until noon). A line for the dressing room snaked onto the retail floor. Several women said they came out after being alerted by e-mails from the retailer, and tried to fit in some power-shopping beginning at 6 a.m. before heading to work.

Across the street at the menswear store Jos. A. Bank, store manager Steve Hanson raced through the store pointing out various doorbusters. "The camel hair blazers are going for $99 and they're regularly $450, feel that material," he said, offering up a soft tan sleeve for a reporter to stroke. "Our executive leathers are selling for $159, and they're normally $600." He suggested dressing up the leather with a cashmere scarf (normally $130, now $29.99.)

The retailer announced the doorbuster specials on Monday. The Maryland-based retailer primarily uses email and TV ads to lure men (and their significant others, partners and wives) to the store. "Men are creatures of habit, that's the way they shop," Hanson said. That, and they tend to shop in bulk, and they react to seasonal changes. "It's colder now, so they'll be coming in for sweaters," he said, confidently.

Shortly after doors opened at 5 a.m., Hanson said he made a "big sale" with a customer who bought five camel-hair sport coats and several Harris tweed suits. Hanson was aptly dressed for a long day of retail-mania, wearing comfortable, but attractive, Johnston & Murphy oxfords (also sold at the store) with a cushy calf-skin insole. He plucked a sample off the shelf and offered it up. "Feel that," he said.

-- Janet Moore

No lines at

Like last year, I filled my cart with Doorbusters at Toys R US before they even opened their doors. My virtual cart, that is.

Many retailers, Toys R Us included, roll out advertised deals online before they open their brick and mortar stores. Which begs the question, why are people waiting for hours to jockey for a $20 remote control helicopter or $5 board game when they can fill their cart from bed?

Granted, the site was a bit slow and I did have to refresh the page several times. I also had to break my order in half so that I could take advantage of the deals advertised at 9 p.m. and the ones that didn't start until 5 a.m. Friday morning. But I'd take that any day over a day of crowded stores and waiting in line.

--Kara McGuire

November 25, 4:20 a.m. All's quiet at Target

I'm a Black Friday veteran, used to bundling up at 3 a.m. to stand with the crowds in line at Target or Best Buy, chatting about the deals they hope to score when the doors open. This year, with Wendy Lee covering the midnight openings, I had no idea what to expect at the big box stores come 4 a.m.

I left my house without gloves (gotta love this unseasonably warm weather) and drove to Target's Midway - St. Paul location. No trouble finding a parking spot; there were several rows with the first spot open.

Meagan Gustafson was walking in to pick up some breakfast goodies. She'd been shopping with her cousins since midnight. With Christmas a month away, the 22-year-old decided she couldn't wait to give her mom the cheap net book she scored at the Roseville Target, so she stopped at the Midway Target to pick up breakfast and was going to present her gift this morning.

Gustafson said she preferred the more relaxed shopping environment to the midnight crowds she experienced at Rosedale Mall. "It's comfortable shopping. Not too crazy," she said, pointing out that there were still a lot of doorbusters left. She bought the netbook for her mom around 3:30am.

I do a lot of shopping at this particular Target and will say it was dead. I'd equate the scene to what it's like just minutes after opening on a typical shopping day, but with way more workers. Most of the cashiers were standing at the end of their checkouts, waiting for customers. The workers stocking shelves and waiting to ring up sales outnumbered customers filling their carts.

You would think that a midnight opening would mean a need for lots of caffeine. But the worker at the Target Starbucks said that I was probably the 15th customer all night. Customers ran in to get their TVs and then left, he said. Sounds like Black Friday to me.

At Herbergers, shoppers were busy stocking up on pillows and other home goods. But there was no wait at the checkouts. One shopper, who didn't want to be named, said she'd been shopping since midnight and liked the new hours because it meant she could shop and get some sleep before she has to work at 5 p.m. tonight. She stopped at Herbergers to kill time before the Menards in St. Paul opened at 6 a.m.

On my way into the office I drove by several retailers with later openings. At 5:15, half a dozen people waited outside of the Radio Shack in St. Paul's Midway. Most were hopong to score a cheap XBox video game system.

At the Staples in Roseville, the line snaked around the corner, as customers waited to scoop up laptops and other doorbusters once the office supply store opened at 6 a.m.

- Kara McGuire

November 25, 3:16 a.m.: Midnight opening OK with many workers

Several retail employees working on Black Friday at midnight at the Mall of America said they didn't mind working the odd hours. Boni Berg, the sales lead at women's clothing store Chico's at the mall, said she volunteered for it.

"I was prepared," Berg said, who had Thanksgiving dinner at her nephew's house and took a nap before coming into work. "You have to have the mindset that this is what you're going to do."

At least 100 people have entered the store by 3 a.m,, Berg said. The good turnout has caused her to feel better about coming into work today because so many people have come by to take advantage of the good deals, she said.

The store is offering 50 percent off already reduced merchandise and 35 percent off regular priced merchandise for its rewards club members. Chico's gave the employees who worked the midnight shift a food stipend, Berg said.

-Wendy Lee

November 25, 2:30 a.m.: Young shoppers flock to Mall of America

The Mall of America was crowded with many younger shoppers that crowded teen stores such as Forever21 and athletic stores like Nike. Shoppers waiting for friends in line at Forever 21 sat on the floor of the corridor space near the store.

Audrey Mundstock, 17, said she loved the midnight opening of the mall, arriving there at 11:45 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Mundstock said she normally doesn't wake up early enough for the 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. openings and by the time she gets to the mall later in the afternoon on Black Friday, most of the stores are picked over.

Munstock bought $142 in clothes from retailers Gap, Eddie Bauer and Gilly Hicks, money she would not have spent if the stores had opened at its typical time. She planned to cruise the mall to look at more stores.

"Since we're here, we might as well," Mundstock said at 2 a.m. on Friday.

At Lindt, a premium chocolate store, about 100 to 200 people came in the first two hours. That's the amount of people that would visit the store in an entire weekday, said shift supervisor Justin Frederiksen.

"I didn't think it was going to be as busy as it's turned out to be, especially for a smaller store like us," Frederiksen said.

Sales data wasn't available, but many customers were buying the store's special of 100 truffles for $30, he said.

-Wendy Lee

November 25, 1:20 a.m. Target CEO out and about on Black Friday

Gregg Steinhafel, Target's CEO, was at the Bloomington Target store and said he was feeling "pretty good" with the customer turnout. More than 1,500 people were lined up in front of the store for its 12 a.m. opening, up 300 people from last year.

"It seemed like people were out in overwhelming numbers," Steinhafel said. "Numbers I have not seen in a long time.

Does that mean Target will have a midnight opening next year?

"We will reassess at the end of the year," Steinhafel said. "We're not making any committments for next year right now."

Steinhafel was visiting the Bloomington Target store, as well as other locations with his family. He said he plans to also visit stores that compete with Target.

Fifteen minutes prior to the Bloomington Target opening, store leaders rallied its employees to increase the location's sales and Target credit card users during Black Friday. The team chanted "T-5," the store's number, several times before opening its doors at midnight.

Shoppers came into the store and quickly walked toward the electronics sections. Customers loaded up on the $298 HDTV doorbusters. At 12:07 a.m., that item was sold out.

Some shoppers like Michael Lee, a 42-year-old engineer, said he prefers the Black Friday hours when they were not at midnight, but earlier in the morning on Friday, such as 5 a.m.

"I think it's a disruption to the holiday," Lee said, who was in line at Target to buy items such as an $85 Kindle, a savings of $54. He had comparison shopped online at sites such as Amazon, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and Target was offering the lowest price.

But some consumers like Lee were cutting the amount of time they were shopping this year short because they felt tired. Lee said he will probably spend about four hours at stores on Black Friday this year, compared to at least six hours last year.

-Wendy Lee

November 24, 11 p.m.: Who needs turkey?

Forget a turkey dinner. On Thanksgiving, Dan Cohoes skipped his traditional feast to wait in front of the Target store in Bloomington for its earliest ever opening -- midnight on Black Friday.

He's hoping to grab a $35 door-buster special for 550-thread count sheets for his mother, a savings of more than $40 and a $298 HDTV for a friend, a savings of $250.

"I'm out here buying bed sheets, when I should be in bed right now," said Cohoes, 35-year-old web and graphic designer. But his friend in line convinced Cohoes that the deals were too good to pass up.

Retailers are pinning their hopes on customers like Cohoes, hoping to jumpstart what is expected to be a challenging holiday season for businesses. Stores are fighting for a limited supply of shoppers -- sales this holiday season are only expected to rise just 2.8%, only about half as much as last year.

Cohoes was third in line at the Target in Bloomington, where 200 to 300 people were waiting for the store's midnight opening at 10:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. With customers still wary about the economy, nationwide chains scrambled to outcompete each other -- revealing their Black Friday ads early and opening their doors at midnight or earlier. In Bloomington, Target and Best Buy were opening at midnight, as were many stores at the Mall of America, including Kohl's and Macy's. At some Best Buys, shoppers waiting in line saw "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" until the doors opened at midnight.

Paige Jacobs, a 24-year-old assembly worker, said she planned to shop until sunrise because she's trying to save as much money as she can. Jacobs was in line to take a look at discounted television sets at Target, including one that was selling for $298, a savings of $250.

"Black Friday is the big deal," Jacobs said.

Some retail experts said the later openings would appeal to shoppers, ages 18 to 34, who do not want to wake up earlier to get deals. But whether they will continue shopping overnight after claiming their doorbusters remains to be seen. Retailers have received some criticism for opening earlier from their employees, who would have to come in on Thanksgiving night to set up the store for shoppers.

A Target employee hand-delivered an online petition that collected more than 190,000 signatures protesting the midnight openings, but Target said it would proceed with its plans because its consumers wanted to shop just after finishing their Thanksgiving meal.

Cohoes said he preferred to shop at midnight because he's not a morning person. His friends said they plan to go to the Mall of America afterwards, but Cohoes said that's still up for discussion because he may want to go home.

"There's no way I would get up at 4 a.m.," he said of typical Black Friday hours. "I'd rather do it this way."

Last year, Target Corp. said more than 1,000 people lined up at its stores for Black Friday. Check back here for more updates on Black Friday.

If you're shopping at midnight, send a tweet to @striblee on Twitter or e-mail and let us know what your shopping experience is like.

Posted by Wendy Lee