So you expected to saunter into J.C. Penney at 7 a.m. Friday and pick up that $8 crockpot?
Think again. Despite 28 years experience working at Penney's in Yorktown Center, Steve Kenney was stunned by the military precision of the Black Friday shopaholics who plowed into the store in the wee hours and marched out of the Lombard mall armed with bargain small appliances.
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"I was shocked," Kenney said, standing in a kitchen section picked clean of the special doorbuster sale items. "Everything was gone 10 minutes after the store opened. They were polite but everyone was working it."
Millions of consumers converged on malls Thanksgiving night and Friday morning as the holiday shopping season kicked off. Many store owners hungry for revenues opened their doors on Thanksgiving, and that could lead to $586 billion in holiday sales, 4 percent higher than 2011, the National Retail Federation estimated.
At Oakbrook Center, John and Kelly Karesh waited until daughter Justine, 13, had moved out of sight before they showed off their finds at Sears.
"It's nothing major but fun stuff for the kids ... head phones and ear buds and speakers for their iPod," Kelly Karesh said.
Prices as low as 50 percent off lured the Westmont couple to Oakbrook Center at the crack of dawn Friday but they didn't venture out on Thursday.
"We wanted Thanksgiving to stay Thanksgiving," she explained. "We're finding out, though, a lot of the big sale items are gone."
Still, many shoppers emerged victorious. Here are some of their stories.
Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall's vast parking lot of 10,288 spots was 95 percent full as of 2:30 a.m. Friday, General Manager Marc Strich said.
But Schaumburg sisters Jamie and Kelly Hahn of Schaumburg waited until 7 a.m. The Hahns wanted to find something special for their stepmom's bachelorette party in Las Vegas, before flying there in the afternoon.
The Express store provided sweaters and pants for Jamie and a top for her stepmom to wear at the bachelorette party.
"Fifty percent off!" she proclaimed proudly. "It was a steal!"
The two fashionistas said they came to Woodfield strictly for the clothes. "We're not looking for TVs or electronics," Kelly Hahn said.
Nothing without coffee
Linda Haber of Woodstock and daughter Abby Naumann went to Algonquin Commons prepared Friday morning. The pair clipped newspaper coupons and researched the best deals in advance using their smartphones and the Internet.
The hard work paid off at Bath & Body Works, where they cleaned up on discounted air fresheners, lotions, soap, candles and bath oil. And it didn't stop there. Mother and daughter received a free tote bag stuffed with body products worth about $100. Plus for every $10 spent at the store, they scored a free item up to $13.
"That's probably what kept us going," Haber said. "We really killed it."
Their mission continued at Carson Pirie Scott at West Dundee's Spring Hill Mall -- offering 500 door busters.
But they weren't going anywhere without their coffee. "Coffee gets you going," Haber said.
Short shelf life
With just six hours to nail some special deals, shoppers jammed the Menards in Long Grove when it opened at 5 a.m. Friday.
Some practical consumers stuffed shopping carts with paint, brushes and other materials. Others were intent on saving $80 on an individual kayak that went for $99.
For Carolyn and Shaun Herda, it was all about the shelving they loaded onto a cart about 6 a.m.
The couple, who spent Thanksgiving with Carolyn's family in Kildeer, are building a new house in Milwaukee.
"We're saving about a hundred bucks here," Shaun Herda said, "and we need shelving for our new garage. We couldn't pass it up."
'The perfect skirt'
Mother-daughter duo Judy and Liz Jordan of Chicago shared their holiday shopping tradition with retail junkies from as far away as India and Brazil at Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora Friday.
"We like to hit the Coach store, so we just come here for that," Judy Jordan said.
But they didn't stop at Coach. Visiting eight stores before 9 a.m. left Liz's arms filled with shopping bags from Aerosoles and Nine West Outlet, including a must-have pair of tan boots with heels.
Judy focused on clothes. "I feel like I could leave right now because I just found the perfect skirt from Polo (Ralph Lauren Outlet)," she said. Drop-dead prices on designer couture meant lines outside of Kate Spade and Coach stores all morning, said Christa Kremer, Chicago Premium Outlets assistant general manager.
"It's better than a regular mall," Liz Jordan said.
Shoppers gone wild
Parking spaces were going fast at Yorktown Center in Lombard as of 7 a.m. Friday.
The Estrella family of Chicago swam against the stream as they left with arms full of bargains.
Claudia Estrella proudly displayed the comforter she'd grabbed for $70, instead of a list price of $100. Her sister, Sara, toted gym shoes for 8-year-old daughter Jennifer -- a steal at $25 instead of $45.
Despite the crowds, "it wasn't too bad. The lines were moving pretty quick," Sara said.
That civility wasn't the case at a Menard's in Darien, where 10-year-old Jacob Dalbey witnessed Black Friday mania at its finest.
"People were fighting over the TVs because they had (just) 100 of them. My dad was trying to get one and this lady said, 'Hey, don't pass me up!' and ran into my cart!" Jacob recounted in awe.
Jacob and his father, Rick Dalbey of Downers Grove, started their odyssey at 4 a.m. One television set and an Xbox later, they went up and down the escalators at Sears in Oakbrook Center, intent on one final purchase -- a set of dishes for Jacob's mom, Tamyra Dalbey.
"We wanted to make sure we included her," Rick said.
• Daily Herald Staff Writers Lenore Adkins, Eric Peterson, Bob Susnjara and Marie Wilson contributed to this report.