Cecilia Auth went to Toys "R" Us at 4 a.m. Friday with one item on her list: a Star Wars All Terrain Tactical Enforcer for her 7-year-old son.
But when she got to the store on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale, she was so impressed by the deals that she filled a shopping cart with presents for her son, daughter, two nieces and a neighbor.
FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption with a holiday shopping story Saturday on Page One misidentified multiple people. The woman at the far left is Barbara Leland. The woman in the middle is her daughter, Elizabeth Leland. The woman at the right, with her head on Elizabeth Leland's shoulder, is Elizabeth's aunt, Laurie Burke.
The Sun regrets the errors.
"I didn't realize that all these toys were on sale. I just decided to finish all my [holiday] shopping today." said Auth, who guessed she had saved about $260, or the equivalent of a BGE bill.
Auth was one of thousands of Baltimore-area bargain-hunters who woke before sunrise to take advantage of the big discounts typical of Black Friday, which traditionally launches the holiday buying season. Some showed up hours before, skipping Thanksgiving dinner, taking naps in sleeping bags and huddling in blankets.
The shopping season started early this year, as retailers competed to lure consumers worried about the tight credit and job markets. Sears began offering Black Friday specials on Halloween, and others followed suit. Old Navy and Walmart opened on Thanksgiving, leaving some to wonder whether Black Friday would be as frenzied as it normally is.
But retailers and mall owners said the day was busier than in the past few years, and consumers seemed to be spending a little more. There was also a bit less chaos, as retailers focused more on crowd control in response to an incident last year at a Long Island, N.Y., Walmart, where a security guard was trampled to death.
Friday, a Walmart in Upland, Calif., closed for more than two hours after customers inside started fighting over merchandise before 3 a.m., the Los Angeles Times reported. No arrests were made, no injuries were reported and the store reopened about 6 a.m.
Across the Baltimore region, lines of eager shoppers formed during the night. The Rosedale Toys "R" Us opened at midnight and had a line that wrapped around the building twice; by 6 a.m. the store was still packed with shoppers pushing carts filled with toys. At the Best Buy in White Marsh, the line wound around the back of the building an hour before the 5 a.m. opening.
And more than 300 people were waiting to enter when the Kohl's department store at Severna Park MarketPlace opened at 4 a.m., said store manager Rob Gurley. Shoppers told him they were "looking to stretch their dollar."
There were no lines outside the White Marsh Walmart at 3:30 a.m. because the store was open for 24 hours on Thanksgiving. But small lines formed throughout the store as people waited to pounce on laptops, flat-screen televisions and other items slated to go on sale at 5 a.m. The bargain items, roped off and covered, had signs that read "Don't touch."
The parking lot at White Marsh Mall was filled to capacity by 9 a.m., and the mall gave out 1,000 free gift bags in 30 minutes. Lisa Bisenius, general manager for White Marsh and Towson Town Center malls, said shoppers were buying more as they took advantage of bargains and seemed to be feeling better about the economy. "It's busier than it has been in a couple of years, as far as we can remember," she said.
By midmorning, shoppers who had spent $100 or more at Towson Town waited in line to get a $10 gift card to be used at any General Growth Properties mall.
Among those in line were Shawn Young of Middle River and her daughters, Bethany, 15, and Kristen, 21. They had been shopping at the mall since it opened at 6 a.m. and spent about $700 at about 20 stores.
"That is crazy," Shawn Young said. "We didn't know we had spent that much until we added up all the receipts." She said they save all year so they can buy gifts with cash, and they try to stick to a budget for each child.
The National Retail Federation, which will release weekend sales results on Sunday, said the day was gearing up to be better than 2008's. The group predicts that as many as 134 million people will shop this weekend, more than the 128 million people who planned to last year. The International Council of Shopping Centers says more than a quarter of shoppers planned to go out the day after Thanksgiving - named Black Friday because it's the day that most merchants' annual ledgers go from red ink to black.
"I think the bargains are too big to pass up this weekend," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman with the retail federation. "Large retailers have come out and said they are very happy with their traffic, and they're seeing toys and even some of the midpriced electronic items go fast."
"Retailers understand the consumer has been cautious this year," said David Herskovits, a partner at Deloitte & Touche, which does retail consulting. "People are starting to feel in the holiday spirit and better about what is going on. Retailers will do everything they can to get consumers to their doors."
The Macy's in Towson Town Center had a rush of customers at the 5 a.m. opening, when the store promoted specials on 250 items, including jewelry and boots, said Jain Trader, store manager.