The mall where he refused to die on Black Friday

Bloomington, Minnesota ;
CNN Business

The rise of e-commerce in recent years has affected in-person shopping, cutting out brick-and-mortar stores and, in the process, the once-popular malls.

As a result, Black Friday, the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season and once known for door-busting deals and hordes of holiday shoppers, has lost some of its luster.

But not here in Bloomington, Minnesota.

At 4:30 a.m. Friday, hundreds of people were waiting in line at the main entrance of the Mall of America. The country’s largest shopping and entertainment center – a 5.6 million square meter behemoth – will open its doors for Black Friday in 150 minutes.

Cold temperatures be damned, these early birds and the tens of thousands more to arrive in the coming hours showed the Black Friday spirit still prevailed in some places.

“The holidays are our version of the Super Bowl,” said Jill Renslow, Mall of America’s executive vice president of business development and marketing.

Shoppers take pictures with Santa Claus at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The first 4,000 people in line for Black Friday were eligible for a special scratch-off gift contest.

People enter the Mall of America to shop on Black Friday.

A shopper carries a Nintendo-themed Lego set at a mall.

Black Friday serves as the start of the holiday shopping season here, since mall officials decided to close on Thanksgiving seven years ago. At the time, “holiday creep” was more evident with deals similar to Black Friday and the emergence of “Grey Thursday” when very early opening hours fell on Thanksgiving Day.

This year’s holiday kick-off is special for the mall, which is not only celebrating its 30th anniversary, but is also returning to pre-pandemic levels of activity.

“[Shoppers] They especially want to shop Black Friday, but they want to shop brick and mortar,” Renslow said. “They want the urgency to be able to bring that item home — especially if there’s something specific on their list.”

About 100,000 people a day through the mall doors, but it’s twice as much as Black Friday. In some years, especially in 2018 and 2019, this traffic has been close to 250,000.

Renslow said foot traffic this year was better than in 2021, but still softer than in pre-pandemic 2019, likely due to a decline in international travel.

Still, it said sales were up 9% from last year and 5% from 2019. (These figures are not adjusted for inflation.)

Mall of America is the largest shopping and entertainment center in the country.

Shoppers walk through the mall during the day.

Jadrian Wooten, associate professor of economics at Virginia Tech, however, sees many clouds of uncertainty surrounding the nation’s entire holiday season.

“This particular year will be a true test of the traditional Black Friday mall experience,” he said.

Decades of high inflation and growing economic uncertainty are making consumers more conscious and frugal.

That’s certainly true for public school teacher Molly Timmerman. The mother-of-two said she plans to spend “much, much less” this year than in years past. “I’m pretty worried about the economy,” he said.

Timmerman With her 13- and 10-year-old daughters on the lookout for bargains, she plans to take a very thoughtful and minimalist approach to shopping this year. Most of all, he wants to spend time with them at the shopping and entertainment center, which he visited for the first time as an 8th grader the year it opened.

Molly Timmerman shopping with her 10-year-old daughter, Erin.  The mother of two said she's worried about the economy and is trying to be very intentional about this season.

Mall of America was America’s brand new “megamall” that hosted the first Black Friday on November 27, 1992.

About 170,000 people flocked to the three-story monolith that day, dwarfing the site’s previous occupant, Metropolitan Stadium, where the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings played for 21 years. The 78-hectare shopping center could fit 59 football fields.

Black Friday patrons came from far and wide that year, with many locals hosting out-of-town visitors who wanted to see the massive shopping and entertainment center.

Those guests were greeted with an explosion of Christmas decorations. It took 30 people three weeks to install, including 1,300 mega wreaths featuring Snoopy, the cartoon beagle from the Peanuts comic strip. At the time, the main attraction in the center of the mall was Knott’s Camp Snoopy theme park.

Families enjoy the Nickelodeon Universe theme park at the mall.

Children play in the mall's Lego store.

At the time, retailers were hoping for a bountiful Black Friday, a return to better times as the nation recovered from the recession of the early 1990s. Although foot traffic was ultimately lower than expected, shoppers still scored plenty of deals and kept the cash registers buzzing.

“By 11 a.m., we had already sold what we would have sold on a normal weekend,” Abercrombie & Fitch store manager Hilary Werner told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune at the time.

Thirty years later, business has revived at Abercrombie & Fitch. Shoppers crowded around the racks, picking out sweaters and pants, including what the store described as “90s-style” ultra-high-rise jeans.

Following an expansion in 2015, the mall is now even bigger, with an additional floor and expansion to more than 96 acres (or about 13 more football fields for those counting). Nickelodeon Universe, a giant indoor theme park and its sprawling bright orange and green roller coasters, replaced the Peanuts gang in the center of the mall.

A Black Friday sale sign hangs in the store window.

A shopper pauses next to a giant nutcracker decoration.

30 years later, the halls are lined with larger-than-life snowflakes, ornaments and trees. down the western corridor, strings of white lights drip from the ceiling.

With Christmas music blaring from the speakers (including Mariah Carey’s 1994 mega-holiday hit, “All I Want is You is You”) and the fragrant aroma of Wetzel’s Pretzels and Cinnabon dough, shoppers fill up with bags. After hitting sales ranging from 20% to 70%.

On Friday morning, the deals were the main attraction for many of the Mall of America early birds, some of whom flocked to the mall on Thanksgiving Day. Be one of the first 200 shoppers to receive a gift card and the first 4,000 to receive a scratch card ticket offering mystery prizes and promotions.

People line up outside the mall before it opens on Black Friday.

First up was the Rands family from Rochester, Minnesota. The family of six arrived at 4pm on Thursday and camped out overnight with “tons of blankets”.

Crystal Rands, 40, grew up in Mississippi going to Black Fridays with her mother, and has continued the tradition with her family. Online shopping can be convenient, she said, but “I still like the rush and being around people.”

Her family saved up throughout the year so they and their four children could enjoy the experience

Newlyweds Alex and Sierra Weber drove five hours from Rockford, Illinois. While some families come prepared the Webers, who were making battle plans for power shopping, just wanted to see what caught their eye.

“We find what we can find, and if we don’t find anything, we eat and enjoy the rides,” said Alex Weber, 33.

The Rands family from Rochester, Minnesota was first in line. They arrived at 4 pm on Thursday.

Jordan Zabel and Mandy Schoultz camped overnight in an ice fishing tent.

Newlyweds Alex and Sierra Weber made the five-hour drive from Rockford, Illinois.

Hundreds of people lined up in front of the mall before it opened.

Later, Jordan Zabel, 28, and his cousin Mandi Schoultz, 31, left the Eskimo QuickFish pop-up ice fishing shelter, where they were playing card games and watching “Wednesday” on Netflix.

This year Christmas will be slightly lower than past shopping seasons. “I’m definitely spending less to do what I can,” Schoultz said.

Brooklyn Park resident Devon Shepherd, 18, bundled up and jumped up and down to brave the 28-degree weather, flashing a big smile when asked about his Black Friday plans.

The opportunity to get a gift card drew her and her friend Esi Adamale, 18, to line up early in the morning despite the heat.

But it can be a boost for Christmas shopping their arrival at 1:45, and at 5:45 Shepherd raved about the experience even more.

“At first it was going to be Christmas shopping, but now it’s an experience,” she said. “I still go in there and shop till I drop.”

As tables fill up in the mall's crowded food court, children sit down to eat lunch.

Shoppers look for deals at Mall of America.

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