When Dean Phillips, general manager for the Summit Mall, arrived at work on Friday at noon, the parking lot was about 95 percent full.
When asked how long it took to park his vehicle, he just laughed.
“Let’s just say I didn’t park where I typically park,” Phillips said.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — at least for shopping.
Researchers and tracking firms expect this year’s total retail sales to exceed the 2011 record-breaking $11.4 billion benchmark, reported by ShopperTrak, a national group that tracks consumer trends.
MarketWatch reports that retailers expect year-over-year gains to exceed the 6.6 percent growth in total sales from 2010 to 2011, according to a survey of retail chief marketing officers by BDO USA.
Pending the final figures, general managers like Phillips have one word for Friday’s sales.
“Growth,” Phillips said of the year-over-year expected gains. “Black Friday to Black Friday we are anticipating a growth in sales.”
Phillips uses a lack of parking spaces and an unrelenting flow of shoppers to make his assessment.
“Turnout’s been spectacular,” Phillips said of early to afternoon shoppers on Black Friday.
The assessment mirrors national projections as consumer confidence soars to a five-year high and economists expect shoppers to loosen up wallets and shell out more than ever this holiday season.
The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimated an overall 4.1-percent increase in sales this holiday season, with fervent online shopping compensating for declining in-store sales.
But a looming federal budget could hamper even that optimistic outlook, cautions Matthew Shay, the group’s president and CEO.
“Many retailers rely on the holiday season for a quarter of their annual sales, and any disruption to consumer confidence and spending during this season could prompt a crisis for retailers and the millions of U.S. jobs the industry supports,” Shay wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on Nov. 14.
Flooding the mall
But, regardless of the onerous fiscal cliff, local consumers came out in droves on Friday.
Bethany Kormushoff was one of the thousands who flooded Summit Mall at midnight. She went out shopping with friends but came home empty-handed. This was her first time doing early Black Friday shopping, and she wanted to see what it was like. But the long lines deterred the 17-year-old Firestone High School senior from making purchases, she said.
“It was ridiculous,” Kormushoff said. “I couldn’t stay any longer. ... My friend bought, like, six things. She’s patient.”
Shoppers continued to flood the mall until 3:30 a.m., when crowds subsided to “manageable” levels, Phillips said.
But while many shoppers endured long lines and temperatures dipping into the low-30s, a second wave poured into the mall around 8 a.m. with additional shoppers arriving hourly through the afternoon.
Across town, Joe Snyder, 18, waited at the front of the line at the Best Buy on Howe Avenue at midnight. For the past two years, Snyder has joined campers outside the Cuyahoga Falls big box electronics store for Black Friday blowout sales.
When the doors opened, Snyder knew what would ensue.
“You know, chaos, like normal,” he said on Friday afternoon after walking away with three televisions and a computer, a total savings of about $700.
While the usual chaotic crowds descended on the many Black Friday retailers, area police and county sheriff departments from Medina, Portage, Summit and Stark counties reported no overnight or early morning incidents.
Before 11 a.m. Friday, Hasham Alkabsh and Salih Almansour were sipping hot drinks outside the nearby Starbucks coffee shop. The two University of Akron students had road-tripped late Thursday to outlet stores in western Pennsylvania to get bargains at midnight.
They said they finished shopping about 5:30 a.m. and found clothing and other items.
The outlet area was jammed with shoppers, Alkabsh said. “It took maybe 10 minutes to find parking.”
Almansour said he bought items to send back to family in Saudi Arabia. “Most are going to be a gift, not for me.”
A Consumer Electronics Association survey of more than 1,000 people indicated that 60 percent had planned to shop between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Those shoppers, according to the survey, also plan to spend 37 percent more than last year.
Some preferred to do their shopping online.
Phil Egan shopped on Thanksgiving but said he did it all sitting down.
“I went shopping online,” the 69-year-old Cuyahoga Falls resident said. “The last two years I probably did 75 percent of my shopping online.”
Online sales are expected to surge this year. ComScore, an Internet tracking company, reports that sales in the first 18 days of November grew 16 percent from the same time last year. And retailers could experience unprecedented gains in this year’s 32-day shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Egan found that the extended shopping season kicked off Friday with some unfamiliar faces.
Egan said he is a regular at the Howe Road Starbucks — he’s a salesman who “works” at the shop five or six times a week. In addition to other regulars like himself, Egan said he was seeing a lot of new faces of people he thought were finishing up Black Friday shopping.
“It’s all people I’ve never seen before,” he said.
Egan said he was sorry to see so many retailers — like Walmart, Target and Toys R Us — extend hours into Thanksgiving, saying it deprived many employees of time with family on the holiday.
“It was nice when that was sacred, at least,” Egan said.
Twin sisters Lauren and Emily Buehrle, 25, were just getting ready to start holiday shopping late Friday morning, long after the early morning rush. The two live in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood.
“We wanted to sleep in,” Lauren said. Instead of shopping first thing after getting up in the morning, the sisters said they put up their Christmas decorations.
“The deals are pretty much the same all day unless you are the first in,” Lauren said. “I’d rather pay the extra and get some good sleep.”
The sisters made the Starbucks coffee shop at West Market Street and Sand Run Road in Akron as their first stop of the day.
“You need to start with the coffee, then with the shopping,” Lauren said.
“I would say Christmas is our favorite time of the year, a special time in Akron,” Emily said .
Emily said she and her sister had an unpleasant time a year ago at an outlet area for early Black Friday shopping. The sisters said they complement each other this time of year.
“I hate shopping,” Emily said.
“I love it,” Lauren said.