Earlier openings thin out crowds

For years, two friends were among the first shoppers to arrive for Black Friday deals, but this year they were met with filled parking spaces and long lines that had formed hours before.

For several years, Greenwood resident Mindy Williams and her friend met at Edinburgh Premium Outlets at 9:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving, following a day spent with their families. This made them among the first shoppers there. But this year, they arrived to see the stores — many of which had been open since 5 p.m. — already full of shoppers.

“It has changed so much. We used to look out at the highway, and cars would be backed up on I-65, but now it’s more spread out,” Williams said.

Thousands of shoppers headed to local stores Thursday night and Friday in search of the best deals.

They made plans of attack, knowing exactly where they wanted to go and what they wanted to get. And they came in groups, with many saying the yearly ritual is as much about family tradition as it is getting any particular gift.

The shopping event is still called Black Friday, even though many stores opened on Thursday. Shoppers from Greenwood to Edinburgh said the stores were busy, but not as much as in past years. They think that the earlier opening times and the sale prices offered beyond the traditional Black Friday store hours were spreading the crowd out.

Shoppers still encountered lines and crowds.

At Kohl’s in Greenwood, a store employee held a large sign showing where the back of the line began. Shoppers held a place in the line as others in their group went through the racks of clothes and other items. Other employees offered those waiting to check out the chance to skip to the front, plus 20 percent off on their purchase, if they applied for a store credit card.

Martha Render and her sister were enjoying their 25th consecutive year of shopping together on Black Friday. Her sister, Sister RosaLee Koch of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, was carrying a coffee maker for Render’s daughter-in-law, Lisa Render. Lisa Render’s daughter Emily was getting a children’s laptop, making a third generation of Renders taking part in the Black Friday festivities.

For Koch, the outing was all about family.

“I very seldom buy anything anyway. It’s really that I want to be with my family,” she said.

Maggie Aldrich of Martinsville was holding a place in line Thursday evening while a friend looked for items. Aldrich had a food processor and art supplies in tow as the line inched forward. She always approaches the overnight shopping expedition with a plan.

“I try to plan out what I’m going to get at each place. We will probably be shopping until noon,” she said.

Her night began at Target on State Road 135, which opened at 6 p.m. with a line snaking around the outside of the building. Security guards and police officers repeatedly reminded those in line not to run or push, but the crowd was orderly. The line slowly moved forward, even while shoppers dealt with a stiff wind in their faces.

Once inside, it was clear that large-screen televisions and other electronic items were among the most coveted items.

Store manager Deanna Brian spoke into a radio, directing employees as she watched the shoppers stream into the store. The Center Grove area location has the second-highest sales volume in the company’s Midwestern region, and Black Friday is critical to its success, she said.

“It’s our biggest sales day for sure. We’re going to be open for 30 consecutive hours, and during that time I’ll have every one of our 300 employees working for part of it,” Brian said.

Before the doors opened, employees went into a huddle before opening every one of 24 checkout aisles. After the doors opened, employees directed shoppers to various departments and where to line up for checkout.

A separate line formed along one side of the building, leading to the electronics department. Andrea Emerson was looking for an iPad Mini for her daughter, who was in another part of the store shopping with Emerson’s husband. Getting that item is what brought Emerson away from her Center Grove area home on the cold night.

But a store employee was updating those in line on inventory and let her know that the iPad Mini 2 had sold out, with about 10 iPad Mini 3s still available and many more of the first-generation iPad Minis still available.

“It would be kind of disappointing if I waited in line for 30 minutes and didn’t get the item they advertised, but I want to see if the older version of it would still be a good gift,” Emerson said.

Greenwood resident Brittany White waited outside in line for two hours before the store opened and had a grocery cart full of items, including a big TV, board games and video games. After finishing at Target, her next stop was the Greenwood Park Mall with friends.

Traffic was still streaming into the mall at 9 p.m. — hours after some stores had opened — with long lines forming at cash registers.

Indianapolis resident Alex Cooper took shelter at a cove of television sets near the mall entrance, watching a basketball game.

“This is the best part of Black Friday right here. I can watch this while (his girlfriend) shops. There’s only so much shopping a guy can take,” he said.

Outside the Build-A-Bear Workshop, Arjavit Singh of Greenwood had just purchased a doll modeled after one of the characters from the Disney movie “Frozen” for his daughter Sukhjinder. Black Friday deals lured him to the mall just to make the purchase, he said.

“All my daughter talks about is ‘Frozen’ this and ‘Frozen’ that. We don’t do Christmas, but my wife said this was on sale, so I needed to come buy it. But she didn’t want to come because it is snowing outside, so here I am,” Singh said.

He glanced uncertainly inside his bag and sighed, hoping the doll he had purchased was the right character from the movie.

“It better be,” he said.