John Parsons was in line at the Target store near Gilbert Road and Baseline Avenue in Mesa before 5 a.m. Friday. "We were at Best Buy before this, and there were already 300 people waiting in line. We counted them. People had beds set up, and there were people sitting in patio chairs they had set up in circles.
Clearly they had been there overnight. We weren’t going to wait in that long a line. We came over here and were near the front," said Parsons, who is visiting family in Mesa.
By 10 a.m., the comfy living room-like chairs and sofas scattered throughout Scottsdale Fashion Square were full of weary-looking men, shopping bags piled beside them.
Carl Pannuti of Scottsdale, was among the weary. His wife and daughter were in the nearby Brooks Brothers store.
"We’ll be here most of the day," Pannuti said. "They have coupons."
Parsons and Pannuti are among the estimated 130 million people nationwide expected to cram into shops this weekend looking for bargains and a way to work off big Thanksgiving dinners.
Retailers, who typically ring up 25 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales in November and December, will look at Friday’s sales as a bellwether for the seasonal spending spree.
The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, predicts the average holiday shopper will spend more than $700 on gifts, decor and other holiday trimmings before the big day arrives. That would tote up to $220 billion in holiday related sales nationwide, a 4.5 percent boost from last year.
Local retail experts said early indications are promising.
"It’s looking like a great day," said Chris Stallman, marketing manager at Chandler Fashion Center. "At least 100 people were in line at KB Toys at 5 a.m., and it’s been a steady stream ever since. Traffic at toy stores is always a good indication. And at the food court, people were eating lunch early, an indication they had been out for hours. They were making pizzas at 9 a.m."
At Fiesta Mall in Mesa, marketing director Tami Ivy said store managers were busy and beaming Friday.
"The word one department store manager used was, Phenomenal,’ " Ivy said. "From my observation, this is the strongest day after Thanksgiving we’ve had in several years."
Last year for the first time in more than a decade, Black Friday — so called because it is traditionally the day retailers move from red ink to black for the year— was the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s a title usually reserved for the Saturday before Christmas.
This year, like last, it appears shoppers are not only coming to the malls in big numbers, but they are also spending big bucks while there.
Becky Wirtjes of Scottsdale hit Circuit City, Best Buy, Toys R Us and various mall game stores and electronics stores Friday in a frantic search for a Nintendo DS, the tech-game maker’s newest system. She didn’t find one, but she found lots of other things to buy.
Wirtjes expects to shell out about $1,200 for Christmas gifts this year. That’s nearly twice the national average.
"We have a big family," she said.
Wirtjes’ sister-in-law, Nicole Amodeo of Cave Creek, is skewing all the curves with her expected holiday gift expenditure of $8,000 — more than 10 times the national average.
But despite the big budget, Amodeo is a bargain shopper. She was out before dawn getting started on her big-as-Santa’s gift list, and waiting in line for more than an hour at Best Buy to purchase a discounted O.C. Gift Set — videos of the teen-popular TV show — for her 12-year-old daughter, Delanie.
In fact, while waiting in line to pay, Amodeo saw and scooped up a $400 camcorder on sale for $279 so Delanie can make her own videos. With 17 family members on her gift list and Amodeo’s personal goal of having at least 25 gifts per person, getting a good deal makes a difference.
Dean and Janet Cooley of Mesa also are big gift givers, with 41 grandchildren on their list.
For their traditional dayafter-Thanksgiving shopping excursion, they use the family grapevine to scope out the bargains.
"We have several daughters who get together the evening before to compare ads and decide which stores they will go to," Dean Cooley said. "Some go (to Target) and some go to Wal-Mart, and they talk to each other on their cell phones. It’s fun to cover the different stores and get the best deals."
Turkey-stuffed late-sleepers may have been disappointed Friday as merchandise flew off shelves early.
At the KB Outlet at Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe, Karaoke machines were gone by 10:30 a.m., the store ran out of Game Cubes by 11 a.m., and popular doll Bratz were sold out by noon.
The store had to refill Barbie shelves three times before 1 p.m., said Denise Hart, spokeswoman for the mall.
"It’s busy out there," Hart said. By mid-afternoon, 95 percent of the parking places, including those in the overflow lot, were full, she said.
At the far north Scottsdale Target, portable DVDs on special were sold out by 9 a.m., said Rob Sims, assistant store manager. And the $30 fake Christmas trees were moving fast.
"Electronics, toys and home decor are really popular," Sims said. The store had already sold out of Nintendo DS days after its Nov. 21 debut, but when the next batch arrives — it’s expected within a few days — Sims expects another day-after-Thanksgiving-like rush.
The temporarily unavailable Nintendo DS may be good news to retailers — giving shoppers such as Wirtjes and others a reason to come back.
And that could help keep up the momentum till the final week, when the panicked procrastinators hit the shops running.