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updated: 11/26/2010 11:29 PM

Local retail season looking more upbeat this time

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  • Shoppers crowd Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg Friday.

    Shoppers crowd Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg Friday.
    Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.co,m

  • Shoppers wait to open for shopping during a Black Friday sales event at an Old Navy store in Chicago.

    Shoppers wait to open for shopping during a Black Friday sales event at an Old Navy store in Chicago.
    Associated Press

  • A crowd at Burlington Coat Factory was ready to hit the rest of Gurnee Mills when the gate went up at 5 a.m. Friday. Burlington opened before the rest of the mall at 3 a.m.

    A crowd at Burlington Coat Factory was ready to hit the rest of Gurnee Mills when the gate went up at 5 a.m. Friday. Burlington opened before the rest of the mall at 3 a.m.
    Bob Susnjara

  • Even though it was just a little before 6 a.m. today, these shoppers were late to the Black Friday party at the Mt. Prospect Kohl's on Elmhurst Road since the stores opened at 3 a.m.

    Even though it was just a little before 6 a.m. today, these shoppers were late to the Black Friday party at the Mt. Prospect Kohl's on Elmhurst Road since the stores opened at 3 a.m.
    Richard Battin

  • The parking lots at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg were packed before sunrise Friday as shoppers look for Black Friday bargains.

    The parking lots at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg were packed before sunrise Friday as shoppers look for Black Friday bargains.
    ABC7

  • Shoppers look for parking spaces as well as bargains in the early hours at  Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Friday.

    Shoppers look for parking spaces as well as bargains in the early hours at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Friday.
    ABC7

 
 

The Super Target in South Elgin opened at 4 a.m. earlier than usual for Black Friday and it paid off, as about 500 shoppers lined up for the doorbuster sales.

"We are excited, we feel busy. The sales are up there, which is good for us," said Super Target store manager Geno Rio," "There are some great deals from sheets sets to towels to toys and electronics. Some items are 50 percent off. There are good deals across the board."

Many other retailers opened earlier than usual as well, as Kohl's started at 3 a.m., and Toys R Us cranked out the doorbusters starting even earlier at 10 p.m. Thursday through 1 p.m. on Friday. Shoppers braved freezing temperatures to snap up $3 appliances at Target, as well as deeply discounted new technology such as DVD players, smartphones and high-definition TVs at Best Buy, Walmart and elsewhere.

This could finally be the best shopping season since 2007, said Diane Swonk, chief economist and senior managing partner for Chicago-based Mesirow Financial.

"Black Friday, which was initially named for all the black ink that it generated for retailers, should be named Redline Friday for the discounts it has come to generate," said Swonk.

Shoppers are well trained and were out in en masse on Friday, she said.

"Once we have the surge (Friday), however, consumers have promised to play chicken with retailers and wait out the sales before they finish their shopping," Swonk said. "The high-end consumers don't want to deal with the crowds and have returned to spend conspicuously, but are not likely to be fighting the crowds (Friday)."

Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg saw about half of its 10,288 parking spaces fill up by 4 a.m., with the rest filled by 1 p.m., said mall General Manager Marc Strich.

"We had strong promotions a year ago, but not the inventory," said Strich. "Everybody was being cautious, including the stores' buyers. Inventories are much stronger this year, back to what they should be."

Traffic and sales were all doing very well, said David Keating, spokesman for General Growth Properties, which owns Oakbrook Center, Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, Watertower Place and Northbrook Court.

"There were more shopping bags at an earlier time, so that's good," said Keating.

Black Friday provides roughly 10 percent of the total sales for the entire holiday season for retailers. So how this day goes, so goes the season, said David Klein, senior vice president/financial consultant for RBC Wealth Management in Vernon Hills.

The economy has been slowly improving, and consumer income also has been increasing, which could lead to more spending this season, said Klein.

"Black Friday can sometimes be an imperfect barometer of how the retailers will do for the rest of the season," Klein said. "If Black Friday is strong, then it's a good season. But if it comes in weaker, and we won't know that until next week, then we'll see more markdowns throughout the end of the season."

Also Swonk and Klein said that the upcoming Cyber Monday and all Internet sales could have an impact as well. Those sales likely will come in strong, they said, especially since many websites are offering deep discounts, free shipping and more convenience for shoppers eager to avoid the crowds.

"Internet shopping could be very strong this year," Klein said.

Still, the high percentage of stores selling apparel at Woodfield meant that online shopping does not hurt them much, said Strich.

"It's touchy feely; it's important to feel it, so bricks and mortar are still involved. People who buy apparel online often have size or fit issues," said Strich.

It's shaping up as an upbeat season for big box and chain retailers. But now American Express has introduced Small Business Saturday and it's unknown how that nationwide marketing push will help small, independent merchants in the midst of stiffer competition, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Bank in Chicago.

"The recovery has left a lot of small business owners just treading water," said Ablin. "And a lot of small businesses are taking a back seat to the big boys. So it's hard to know if Small Business Saturday will gain ground for them. We're not sure yet if the tide is strong enough to help lift everyone."

&bul;Daily Herald reporters Larissa Chinwah and Deborah Donovan contributed to this report.