If Christmas shopping has a soundtrack, its bass line may be the low and steady thrum of holiday shoppers at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka.

On Black Friday, its lot was a sort of automotive Whac-A-Mole, spaces opening and filling randomly, but regularly.

In the seating area outside J.C. Penney, Jeanne Jorgenson of Brainerd, Minn., was wrapping up lunch with daughters Julia Stock of Otsego and Heidi Schantzen of Albertville. Their 12-hour day had begun early at Wal-Mart and would end at the Albertville Outlets. Ridgedale is where they recharge (as well as charge).

“We do this every year as a family,” she said. “This is girl shopping time.”

But couldn’t they stay home in their jammies and shop?

Perish the thought.

“There’s an excitement that comes with being here, the energy of everyone,” Stock said. “It’s a tradition.”

Plus, Schantzen said, “we always strike up conversations with some really fun people in line.”

“Everyone is jovial,” Stock added.

What? Where are the tales of sharp elbows and aisle tussles? Of crabby shoppers and harried clerks? Of a death march disguised as holiday cheer? For that matter, where is the human gridlock that was supposed to drive everyone to shop online?

Maybe it drove just enough shoppers into cyberspace. For despite this being the year’s biggest shopping day, Ridgedale’s aisles were bustling, but pleasantly so. (Hate shopping but love online? Read more about that argument here.)

“It seems a little more relaxed,” Jorgenson said, comparing previous years. Business analysts have called early holiday shopping numbers “softer” than in the past.

Actually, the trio has developed a sort of hybrid shopping model, melding the jingle bells of brick-and-mortar with the information trove of online.

As the turkey roasts for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, the women comb newspaper ads for the best deals. But they also go online to see which stores have what in stock, to consider reviews or decide on colors.

Schantzen then creates an impressive spreadsheet of gifts and stores to guide their shopping. Sure, they could give in and click “buy,” but that would deprive them of the other family tradition of backing out of the driveway in the dark serenaded by “The Happy Elf” song.

Stock glanced at her mom with a lopsided grin. “It gets us in the mood.”

Good old-fashioned tradition

Sisters Laura and Mary Leslie had to twist their mom’s arm ever so gently, but once again they got her to Southdale Center in Edina to shop for Christmas presents.

“It’s tradition,” said Laura Leslie of Minneapolis, giving her mom, Julie, a playful nudge.

Years ago, of course, Julie Leslie rounded up the kids and hit the stores because that was how you shopped, before online options made the term “brick-and-mortar” necessary.

Little did she realize it was a beloved ritual until her daughters began scheduling the annual event.

“Sure, we could all be sitting on a couch shopping online together, but it wouldn’t be as much fun,” Laura said. Yet Mom’s motivation has evolved over the years.

“I’m not really a shopper, but I go with the kids so if they see something they like, I buy it for them right there,” Julie Leslie said. “It’s not a surprise, but then they don’t have to return it if it’s not right.”

And if online shopping was one reason for the ease of finding a parking space at midmorning, that was fine with the Leslies, who were laden with bags.

“We don’t go to the mall,” Laura said, referring to the Mall of America, then laughed at the distinction she made. “We never call this the mall,” she said, looking around what was the first indoor regional shopping mall when it opened in 1956. “We call it Southdale.”

Lists not required

For shoppers who love browsing in small shops, brick-and-mortar is the draw. At the Grand Hand Gallery in St. Paul, customers moved in slow motion, mulling over handmade tiles, bowls made of paper-thin dried vegetables or cunning wooden gewgaw boxes.

“I know they have local artisans, but also have these unusual things you can’t find elsewhere,” said Janet Rice of Minneapolis. “And I like that it’s a real store.”

Not that she doesn’t shop online; she does. But on this day, she was on the hunt for stocking stuffers, which often are highly personal and, ideally, delightful. She came in with no list, only an eye for serendipity.

That’s also how Joe Peterson of St. Paul approached his gift goals at Southdale.

For him, holiday shopping is “random, total random,” he said, holding up several shopping bags. “I don’t think anything of this was meant.”

He shops online during the year, “but for Christmas, it’s hands-on. I’m out there. And for the most part, people are happy.

“Plus, this is tradition. My mother, sister and sister-in-law would always meet up here and do the whole-day thing,” Peterson said. “But my mom can’t get out as easily anymore, so I’m shopping to help her out.”

And, he acknowledged, there may be a few things in the bags for himself. You’re in the moment, he explained. The price is a steal. And it’s Christmas.