CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Catherine Muccigrosso//The Charlotte Observer) - The sun was barely up but shoppers on Black Friday morning were making their way to and from Charlotte shopping centers and malls to find gift-giving savings.
They’re holding on to the shopping tradition even as Americans turn increasingly to online retailers for their holiday shopping.
Shoppers waited in line for hours at Belk at SouthPark mall for its $1 million gift card giveaway of $5 to $500 on Black Friday, and Best Buy in Metropolitan saw lines before its 5 p.m. Thursday opening, Observer news partner WBTV reported.
At Rivergate shopping center off Highway 160 and farther down the road at Charlotte Premium Outlets, shoppers at 6:30 a.m. carried bags, some yawning. But there were plenty of parking spaces, and short to no lines at many store registers early in the morning.
Several store associates at different outlet stores said traffic was steady but the shopping rush happened on Thursday and for some, at midnight. The outlet was open 28 hours — 6 p.m. Thursday until 10 p.m. Friday.
Pam Black of Asheville was sitting on a bench, taking a break at about 7:30 a.m., with several bags at her feet. She said she had already made one trip to the car. She said they went out Thanksgiving Day as the outlets opened at 6 p.m. but the lines were too long.
“Don’t come on Thursday. There are way too many people,” she said. “Come Friday morning, there’s nobody here.”
Black and about six friends get hotel rooms and annually make Black Friday a girlfriend’s shopping weekend. They’ve been doing it for about 15 years.
“It’s about being together, the camaraderie,” she said.
After the outlets, she said they planned to head to SouthPark, Carolina Place and Concord Mills malls.
“We pack a lot into one day,” she said.
An estimated 165.3 million people were expected to shop Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
Throughout the course of the holiday weekend, 39.6 million consumers were considering shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday and 33.3 million on Sunday, according to NRF. On Cyber Monday, 68.7 million are expected to take advantage of online bargains.
Sara Townsend of Ohio, who was visiting family in Charlotte, said they started shopping at about 5:30 a.m. at the outlets.
“For me, it was just spending time with family,” Townsend said, heading back to the parking lot at about 7 a.m.
Her daughter, Jaime Townsend of Charlotte, said it helps her get into the spirit and she likes the Black Friday deals.
“Generally, it’s supposed to be about other people but this was all for me,” she said, showing her bags.
Isaiah Mcaeal of Charlotte said he, too, was at the outlets for the 30-75% off sale at Puma to find clothes for himself. He likes being able to try them on.
“Personally, I don’t like waiting for my stuff,” he said of shopping online, “and you can’t beat that.”
At Northlake Mall, a trio of women carrying shopping bags each donned Christmas festive T-shirts that said: “It’s Black Friday Under the Carolina Moon.”
“They’ve been doing this my whole life and I’ve been around 33 years,” said Kelly Williams of Cornelius, who joined her mother, Missy Russell, and mother’s friend, Darlene Hathcock, both of Albemarle.
They woke up about 3 a.m. to first go to Concord Mills mall at 5 a.m. before making it to Northlake Mall, which opened later.
“We like to feel it, touch it, hold it, and the excitement here,” Russell said. “It’s not what you go for, it’s what you happen upon when you get there.”
They said they found unexpected deals like $40 bracelets for $4 at Dillard’s.
Lines moved quickly, or there were no lines at all, the women said, even while shopping Thanksgiving Day at Target, Walmart and Kohl’s.
“We thought it was really off this year, maybe more people are online shopping,” Russell said. “There’s no time spent in line.”
Alex Cochran, a fragrance specialist at Dillard’s, said it was her second Black Friday working.
“I was expecting a little more foot traffic,” she said.
Patrice Gibson was shopping for her grandchildren.
“Every year this is what we do. Some things I like to get online. And some things I don’t, like clothing,” she said.
Gibson started at 8:30 a.m. and was leaving the mall two hours later, as the parking lot was filling up.
“Everyone’s getting up now, the crowd’s getting ready to come in and we’re going out,” she said.