The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 26, 2010

A big start to Black Friday

Thousands flock to Mankato's major retailers

MANKATO — When River Hills Mall Manager Paul Wilke climbed up on the roof at 5 a.m. to get a look at the parking lots, he liked what he saw.

“About 90 percent of the parking stalls were filled,” Wilke said.

“In the 17 years I’ve been doing this, it was the best early Black Friday traffic I’ve ever seen. Which is good, the economy must be showing some rebound.”

The early rush at River Hills and other stores was fueled by more retailers that opened earlier, including some who opened a second after Thanksgiving Thursday ended.

Aeropostale set the pace when they advertised a few weeks ago they’d open at midnight in River Hills. While the mall has in the past required all its non-anchor stores to open at 6 a.m., Wilke said this year they opened the mall doors at midnight and let stores set their own opening times. Six more retailers followed with a midnight opening.

“The stores said it was worth their time to open at midnight. They had met 30 or 40 percent of their day’s goal by 4 a.m.”

Some of the anchor stores also opened earlier this year, including Herberger’s at 3 a.m. and Target at 4 a.m.    

Up to 4,000 people waited at Target’s doors, with a line outside snaking over to the JC Penney entrance and the mall hallways inside packed back to Victoria’s Secret.

“I never saw a line like that,” Wilke said. “They had them all in the store in about a half hour. It was amazing to watch.”

Target Store Manager Gama Adame said many shoppers were after a 40-inch TV for $298. “We had a lot of them, but they sold out right away.

“Things went really well. We have more people in the store than last year.”

Shoppers and retailers said that not only were more shoppers out, but they appeared to be spending more.

“It seems like there are more people,” said Dave Harguth, who came from Waseca with his wife and daughter and lined up outside of Kohl’s for their 3 a.m. opening.

“Menards was a mess — there were a lot of people lined up.”

Harguth said they got the deals they were looking for, including a discounted digital camera and a Wii charger at Menards.

Brandon Scheel, manager of Scheels in Mankato, said they had hundreds of people lined up at both entrances when they threw the doors open at 6 a.m.

“We’re probably at higher sales than last year, the purchases are up some.”

Many people were drawn in by 99-cent socks, $5 lounge pants and a game camera at $50 — half the normal price.

Rachel Hanson, of Minnesota Lake, was one of those who got a trail camera, for her husband.

She and family members started shopping at 4 a.m. and found larger crowds than in previous years.

“There must be more people because we aren’t getting everything we wanted,” Hanson said.

Wilke said the success of ever earlier store openings will likely move more stores to change their opening times.

“For those people who just want to stay up and shop rather than go to sleep a while and then come out, the midnight openings give them that option.

“I think you’ll see stores giving people different options for when they want to do their shopping.”

Wilke said the Saturday before Christmas has traditionally been the biggest shopping day of the year for most local retailers, but with the success of this year’s Black Friday, he’s not sure that will hold.

“I’m not sure they’ll be able to beat this,” he said.

“It’s encouraging considering the past two years have been some of the slowest Black Fridays.”

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